Transit Plus drivers’ plan to join union fuels councillor’s push for de-privatization

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The union representing more than 1,400 Winnipeg Transit employees is set to gain 23 new members after operators at a private Transit Plus provider voted to join its ranks.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/03/2020 (944 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The union representing more than 1,400 Winnipeg Transit employees is set to gain 23 new members after operators at a private Transit Plus provider voted to join its ranks.

AB Transit operators and officials at the Amalgamated Transit Union 1505 will start negotiating an initial collective bargaining agreement in the coming weeks.

In a press release, ATU vice-president James Van Gerwen hailed the new membership as a “victory for workers, who are transporting our most vulnerable citizens in Winnipeg on a daily basis.”

AB Transit operators voted to join the Amalgamated Transit Union 1505, which represents drivers at Winnipeg Transit. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“We want to see fair working conditions for these workers,” he added, saying under current conditions, they don’t receive benefits such as lunch or bathroom breaks, injury protections or fair schedules. Those issues impact not only the operators, but the users relying on timely and adequate service, the union argues.

AB joining the ATU fold is good news, said Patrick Stewart of the Independent Living Resource Centre.

“The issues drivers face are intrinsically linked to issues users of the service face,” he said. When vehicles are late or in disrepair, or when rides are cancelled, that spills over to the more than 7,000 registrants of Transit Plus, he said.

“If (contractors) are paying below minimum wage, with no breaks, it really speaks volumes about the level of respect the city often has for (Transit Plus) passengers,” Stewart said.

Giving operators union protection and collective-bargaining abilities should move the needle toward Transit Plus being a parallel service, not a separate one with worse conditions, he added.

AB is one of several providers the city has contracted for Transit Plus services, which, until recently, was called Handi-Transit. In 2018, AB received a seven-year, $8.4-million contract from the city.

The program wasn’t always privatized; in the late 1980s, the first contracts were signed, and after 1997, all services were contracted out. Before then, the city held 30 per cent of the contracts — a number once again being targeted by some in city hall.

In November, council voted to explore bringing 30 per cent of the contracts back in house by 2022. At the time, ATU spokesperson Zach Fleisher argued privatization has resulted in lower wages for unionized drivers, poor service and a lack of public scrutiny for the contracted companies.

Coun. Brian Mayes, who introduced the motion, said it would improve service and address increasing contract costs; between 2009 and 2018, the cost-per-ride for the city increased by more than 50 per cent.

After the AB-ATU news was made public Thursday, Mayes (St. Vital) said it should add more support for an in-house model.

“I think it’s one more log on the fire,” he said.

Some opposition to in-house services was derived of concern over the union’s involvement, Mayes said.

“Leaving services in private hands, it looks like we’ll have to deal with them, too. This is all part of the larger picture, and I think it gives some weight in my view that we should be bringing this back in-house,” he said.

In an August 2019 Probe Research poll commissioned by the ATU and the resource centre, 58 per cent of 743 respondents — two-thirds of whom were frequent or occasional users — were in favour of the city taking over Transit Plus.

Stewart enthusiastically supports the prospect of taking Transit Plus out of private hands.

“We support 30 per cent (in-house). We support 100 per cent (in-house). (Transit Plus) should not be a money-making operation,” he said.

A report on in-house Transit Plus services will be discussed by the standing policy committee Monday.

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman
Reporter

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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