As tensions flare between city hall and the transit workers’ union over stalled contract negotiations, the union’s president is asking for members of the city’s senior administration to be placed on paid leave while an integrity investigation into their behaviour is conducted.
The request comes on the heels of the city’s decision to stop allowing Winnipeg Transit drivers to switch shifts or vacation days, or have their seniority considered when choosing their schedules. The unusual measures, which are possible because the drivers' contract expired in January, were outlined in a leaked internal memo circulated on Thursday, which said the new rules would take effect on Saturday.
The city gave ATU members a deadline of Aug. 17 to accept its latest offer, and have the full terms of the 2015-2019 collective agreement reinstated and a sign-up allowing operators to choose schedules begin the week of Aug. 19.
On Friday, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president Aleem Chaudhary sent a letter, which was obtained by the Free Press, detailing his complaints to City of Winnipeg integrity commissioner Sherri Walsh. The letter said the city’s latest move violates its newly adopted code of conduct, which prohibits city employees from engaging in activity "that causes other employees to refuse work or feel intimidated working," and from making "public comments that harm co-workers."
Chaudhary said dozens of members have reported "severe anxiety and distress" since the upcoming changes to bus driver scheduling were announced. He singled out Michael Jack, the city’s chief corporate services officer, for his actions "in news releases, memos and media interviews."
"We believe that the conduct of the City of Winnipeg in the previous 24 hours constitutes a misuse of authority and has caused several of our members to feel intimidated," the letter read.
A spokesman for the City of Winnipeg did not make Jack available for comment Friday.
Integrity commissioner Walsh confirmed she received the union’s letter, and said investigating complaints related to the city’s code of conduct for its employees falls outside her jurisdiction, which is limited to city council. However, if council were to request she look into the union’s complaint, it would then be up to her to determine its merit.
"There’s nothing that would, in my view, prevent council from making that decision," said Walsh. "But I certainly don’t have the jurisdiction otherwise to address the employee code of conduct."
Chaudhary said in his letter the ATU is asking Walsh’s office to look into its complaint because it’s concerned the regular channels are not sufficient in this case.
"While the City of Winnipeg Code of Conduct would normally refer (an) investigation of this nature to the office of the CAO and senior administration, we feel that such a policy would obviously be a conflict as senior administrators would be investigating each other," the letter read.
Chaudhary requested that, should the investigation be validated, the city be required to apologize in writing to ATU members "who felt intimidated by the infractions of the code of conduct."
The city and the union have been negotiating since their last collective agreement expired on Jan. 12. The two sides haven't met since the latest round of negotiations, which involved a mediator and led the city to issue its fourth and "final" offer — after an initial "final" offer in May. The city said it offered a two per cent wage increase for each year of a proposed agreement that would last four years and two months, while the union wants a 2.75 per cent general wage increase for each of the next four years.
A union spokesman said the union has also requested the services of an arbitrator to help determine the pay scales for its mechanics, who make about $10 an hour less than mechanics represented by the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg. The ATU has also put forth proposals to improve the reliability of scheduling, and has asked for dedicated mental-health services for its members, the spokesman said.