July 3, 2020

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Bus drivers union threatens to strike over safety concerns, Transit inaction

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/11/2018 (584 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

City bus drivers are prepared to walk a picket line in the new year as a result of Winnipeg Transit's failure to deal with increasingly violent assaults on both operators and passengers, their union president says.

The collective agreement between the city and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 expires Jan. 12, and Aleem Chaudhary said a strike is a real possibility.

Chaudhary claims Transit has attempted to minimize the number of reported assaults and that officials refuse to acknowledge drivers are being suspended for making assault claims.

 Aleem Chaudhary President of the Amalgomated Transit Union #1505

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Aleem Chaudhary President of the Amalgomated Transit Union #1505

"Our operators are at a point where they’ve had enough, as far as their safety is concerned. They are willing to stand up for themselves and they might take some action if there needs to be," Chaudhary said. "We can look at a strike if we need to."

More than a dozen Transit drivers accompanied Chaudhary and other union officials to Tuesday’s finance committee meeting, where they called on the city to take action to stop assaults and harassment of drivers and passengers.

Chaudhary said Transit has recognized just 70 or so assaults this year, but there have been at least another 30 to 35 that department supervisors have refused to acknowledge.

"How do you think the operators feel — they feel intimidated, they feel they’re being disrespected and they’re not believed," he said.

Chaudhary’s comments were prompted by statements from Transit director Greg Ewankiw and from other transit officials who deny management has been suppressing the number of assault incidents.

Director of Winnipeg Transit Greg Ewankiw

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Director of Winnipeg Transit Greg Ewankiw

Ewankiw later told reporters he wasn't aware of any drivers having been suspended for attempting to report assaults.

Earlier at the committee, former driver Chantale Garand said she quit her job after six years when she concluded the work was unsafe and Transit management had begun a concerted effort to blame the drivers for difficult confrontations with some passengers.

Ewankiw told reporters that the final determination of whether an assault occurred is made by the driver, but added each report is then subjected to review by an independent adjudicator, who submits a report to management.

Safety concerns were galvanized by the Feb. 14, 2017 stabbing death of driver Irvine Jubal Fraser, which prompted an internal review and commitments from Transit and city officials to improve safety for drivers and passengers.

However, Chaudhary said measures implemented by Transit haven’t been effective. A commitment to study driver shields has not resulted in any concrete plans.

 

After Tuesday's meeting, finance chairman Coun. Scott Gillingham (St. James) said there's a troubling disconnect between concerns raised by drivers and their union and the administration’s assessment of the situation.

Chaudhary said he couldn't explain why Transit management is intent on suppressing the number of reported assaults, adding however it might be an attempt to manage the department's reputation.

Transit is having a difficult time attracting and keeping drivers, he said, adding that for every 10 new drivers hired, about four quit before their training is completed.

The union wants Transit to reinvest all or some of the projected Transit year-end surplus of $7.9 million into safety measures.

The transit surplus is in addition to, and separate from, a $9.5-million projected year-end surplus for city hall’s operating budget.

Driver shields were installed on buses last year.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Driver shields were installed on buses last year.

Gillingham said he believes the surplus should remain within Transit operations but is uncertain how those funds should be spent — on additional safety measures, freezing or lowering fares or other measures — adding that will be a decision left to council as it formulates its 2019 budget.

An administrative report said $4.4 million of Transit’s surplus is the result of increased fare revenue this year.

Transit officials said they miscalculated ridership projections for 2018, when they argued for a 25-cent fare increase for this year. Officials said they estimated the higher fare would result in lower ridership and a further decrease in revenue. However, they said they were surprised to see ridership didn’t fall and as a result, fare revenue has increased substantially.

The report also showed that fuel costs are expected to be $3.6 million higher than budgeted but those costs have been offset by a $4 million savings in part replacement costs and $3.3 million salary savings as a result of a greater number of retirements and resignations.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

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