A strike or lockout of Winnipeg Transit employees seems almost inevitable after city hall rejected Thursday the union’s latest offer.
Both city hall and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 (representing about 1,100 bus operators and 350 mechanics and maintenance staff) insist they've submitted reasonable offers, and neither side appears willing to water down their proposals at this point.
Michael Jack, City of Winnipeg chief corporate services officer, met with reporters Thursday and said the gulf between the two sides is so wide there is no point in any further face-to-face negotiations.
"We are really far apart on a number of key issues," Jack said, singling out wage increases and a proposed five-minute relief break at the end of each route run. "This isn’t a matter of just a few more hours of bargaining to getting it done. We are remarkably far apart in our positions."
ATU Local 1505 president Aleem Chaudhary countered, saying the contract dispute will not be resolved through news releases and city hall needs to sit down with the union to iron out their differences.
Chaudhary said city hall is taking "a regressive approach" and disputed its accounting of the union's proposals as "inflated and unsourced." He said the union's sole objective is to improve working conditions for its members while improving service for riders.
"The city has made it clear with their latest aggression that they would rather threaten workers and riders than fix the mess at Winnipeg Transit and work in good faith, sit down with the ATU, and solve these issues." — ATU Local 1505 president Aleem Chaudhary
"The city has made it clear with their latest aggression that they would rather threaten workers and riders than fix the mess at Winnipeg Transit and work in good faith, sit down with the ATU, and solve these issues," Chaudhary said in a statement.
The city released a detailed statement Thursday, breaking down the offer made Aug. 16 by ATU Local 1505 after its members had overwhelmingly rejected a settlement offer from city hall.
The two sides are more than $68-million apart, the City of Winnipeg said, claiming the price tag for the union’s proposals is $80.8 million, compared to the city's offer, which will cost taxpayers $12.8 million.
"The city has asked ATU to come back with a counterproposal that is reasonably in line with what the city has offered in the previous four contract proposals, and not just another repackaging of their previous proposals," the statement said, concluding it firmly believes the union plans to go out on strike in September.
The union responded, saying the city had previously estimated ATU contract demands would cost $50 million and questioning its latest $80-million estimate.
"We've lowered our wage demands, but somehow the city says it will cost more. That makes no sense," said Zach Fleisher, the union's communications director. "We do hope they will come to their senses and return to the table and work in a constructive and fair bargaining process."
The collective agreement expired Jan. 12. Union members have formally rejected settlement offers on three occasions.
“I have negotiated contracts. I have taken people out on strike. I have been on strike. (The city strategy) just seems bizarre to me and juvenile.” — Coun. Brian Mayes who says city negotiators are needlessly inflaming the situation.
The transit union last went on strike in 1976, when service was shut down for six weeks.
Meanwhile, Coun. Brian Mayes said city negotiators are needlessly inflaming the situation.
"I have negotiated contracts. I have taken people out on strike. I have been on strike. (The city strategy) just seems bizarre to me and juvenile," said Mayes, who is a lawyer. "What are (the city negotiating team) trying to accomplish?"
Mayes said the city’s wage proposal seems reasonable, but added the union’s demand for better wage increases for Transit mechanics (who earn considerably less than city mechanics working for police and the fire paramedic services) deserves attention.
Felicia Wiltshire, the city's director of communications, said in the event of a strike or lockout, "the city would look at ways to refund or replace (bus passes, including the post-secondary U-Pass) for customers to cover the time period that was effectively purchased and lost as a result of the discontinuation of service."
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.