Winnipeg city hall is relying on outdated bargaining methods in a high-risk bid to force its transit union to agree to a tentative agreement that could instead trigger a strike, a Manitoba labour expert says.
Alan Levy, a retired Brandon University professor of business administration with decades of experience in labour mediation and arbitration, said Mayor Brian Bowman’s warning Monday for Winnipeg Transit users to prepare for a strike is meant to demonize the union and its members.
"The city is playing games here to pressure the union to obtain an agreement, but all it will do is further alienate the bargaining team and all the members," Levy said. "Invariably, they are pushing the union to decide whether they should or shouldn’t strike."
Bowman told reporters Monday talks between the city and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 (which represents Transit drivers and mechanics) have reached an impasse — a deliberate union strategy in advance of a strike.
"My message to Winnipeggers and transit riders is… make alternate arrangements now, because we are expecting ATU to strike when it’s going to be most disruptive... in or around the Labour Day long weekend," the mayor said, adding he’s now willing to support a lockout of Transit staff before such a strike happens.
"Given the position of ATU, all options will be on the table going forward."
Aleem Chaudhary, president of ATU Local 1505, said he was disappointed by Bowman’s comments.
"We have never uttered the word 'strike,' and it’s only something we would consider as a last resort," Chaudhary said.
Levy described Bowman’s comments as "crazy stuff," intended to frighten the public.
"What he’s trying to say is, ‘These mean, nasty bus drivers don’t give a hoot about our customers and we, the city, are trying to do our best to deal with these unreasonable union claims,’" Levy said.
"The mayor is pushing this to the wall hoping the union will blink. But, if there is a strike, there’s a good chance it will be a long strike because the membership has become so politicized by the city’s behaviour that the union has to meet the member expectations."
The transit workers collective agreement expired Jan. 12.
Levy said union members have twice rejected settlement offers from city hall, and the use of threatening language now will make it more difficult for negotiators to get the membership onside in the event they manage to reach an tentative agreement.
In a statement issued Monday, city hall said a four-year deal offered by the union last week would cost taxpayers an additional $50 million, not including wage increases.
The union said it’s been focusing on improving working conditions for drivers that would also improve service for riders, and denied its proposals have a multimillion-dollar price tag.
"We want to deal with these issues before we talk about wages and dollars," Chaudhary said.
When asked to explain how the $50-million figure had been arrived at, City of Winnipeg officials said only two of the union's proposals accounted for the total $50-million cost over four years: purchasing extra buses and hiring additional staff to accommodate reducing the average travelling speed to 15 km/h from 18 km/h; and the provision for a minimum five-minute driver break at the end of every route.
— with files from Ryan Thorpe
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
Updated on Monday, July 22, 2019 at 7:10 PM CDT: Writethru.