By Doug Hallett
What is apparently the first shutdown in the history of Guelph Transit has the two sides seeming to be far apart.
City hall wants locked-out members of the transit union to reconsider a tentative deal that they rejected in a vote on Sunday, but the head of the union says this is not going to happen.
“The membership is not going to reconsider that offer. That is what they have pretty much straight-up told me,” Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1189 president Andy Cleary said Monday.
The vote Sunday evening against a tentative agreement that had been worked out between the two sides a week earlier was “totally overwhelming,” he said in an interview.
The city locked out the 205 ATU members at 12:01 a.m. Monday, and so Guelph Transit buses did not run Monday.
The only bus service being offered now is mobility service for pre-booked medical appointments, provided through a contractor.
“As far as we are aware, there hasn’t been a Guelph Transit strike or lockout in the past,” city communications officer Stewart McDonough told the Trib Monday.
“I am extremely disappointed by ATU’s rejection of the offer ratified by our city council,” city CAO Ann Pappert said in a statement issued late Sunday night.
“Every effort has been made to avoid a disruption to our transit services. We had reached a tentative agreement with ATU leadership; however, it is clear that the union’s membership remains unmoved,” she said.
The city went as far as it could during the all-day negotiations on Sunday July 13 that resulted in the tentative deal, which boosted the wage increase from 6.4% over four years to 6.8%, Pappert said.
“For the city to move any further would drive transit rates up, along with property taxes to an unacceptable level from one service, entrenching that hardship long-term,” she said.
“We also readily addressed the ATU’s publicly stated main concern over workplace respect and working conditions, which fall outside the confines of a collective bargaining agreement,” Pappert added.
Cleary, though, said ATU members still “feel disrespect in the way we’ve been treated.”
As an example, he cited a report on the city’s overtime practices by internal auditor Loretta Alonzo last November that accused Guelph Transit drivers of “behaviour bordering on misappropriation.”
“The members are a bit sick and tired of being the city’s scapegoat,” Cleary said.
ATU members had voted 94% against a city contract offer a couple of days before the July 13 negotiations, which lasted 12 or 13 hours and was “the best bargaining we had” through many months of talks, he said.
The details of this tentative deal, which city council ratified on July 14, were given to ATU members on Friday.
Since Friday, “they gave me the sense they were going to turn it down,” Cleary said, but “I was a little bit surprised by how overwhelming the vote was” to reject the deal.
He said 190 of the 205 full- and part-time transit employees represented by the local voted Sunday, but he wouldn’t reveal what percentage voted against the agreement.
“Guelph’s transit riders will be left without service until the agreement is reconsidered and accepted by the ATU membership,” Pappert’s statement said.
“We know this will create enormous hardship for transit riders and our community. I’m equally concerned for our transit employees, because this will be a hardship for them and their families,” she said.
Cleary called the lockout, which he said came as a surprise to him, “an unfortunate thing for the community.”
“We became bus drivers for a reason. We love our jobs. We love to serve the community,” he said. “It is a difficult job at the best of times, but 99 per cent of us love it.”
Cleary said the tentative deal reached July 13 wasn’t different enough from the previously rejected city offer to make ATU members want to vote for it.
Aside from the change in pay boost from 6.4% to 6.8% over four years in the July 13 deal, ATU negotiators “managed to beat back erosion to some of our language. Obviously, not all of it,” he said.
An example of beating back erosion in contract language, he said, was an attempt by the city to “delete a coaching program” that is used “instead of going straight to discipline.”
Maintenance mechanics represented by the ATU were particularly displeased by the tentative deal, Cleary said. He said the mechanics, whose base pay rate can be about $31 an hour, want more of a differential between their base pay and that received by bus drivers.
“It takes them four or five years to become a mechanic, and they are expected to have about $30,000 worth of tools to fix the buses,” he said.
Bus drivers, who can make a base rate of about $26.50 an hour, occasionally make more than mechanics once shift differentials and overtime are factored in, he said.
“They are so underpaid by the standards of their industry,” Cleary said of Guelph Transit’s maintenance mechanics.
The city is offering refunds to all bus pass holders as a result of the lockout of Guelph Transit’s union employees and the suspension of transit services.
Refunds for both regular and affordable bus passes will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday July 23 at four locations – city hall, the Evergreen Seniors Community Centre, the Victoria Road Recreation Centre and the West End Community Centre. Pass holders are being given two options for refunds:
• Hand in their July pass in exchange for receiving a refund for 50% off its value. The refund will be paid to the customer in the same form of payment as the original pass purchase. Customers who originally paid by cheque will receive a cash refund.
• Hand in their July pass in exchange for using 50% of its value as payment toward a future month’s pass purchase. This must be used before the end of 2014.