City hall has upped the ante in ongoing contract negotiations with the transit workers' union, with moves the union’s president describes as intimidation tactics.
Beginning Saturday, Winnipeg Transit drivers will no longer be allowed to switch shifts, have their seniority considered when choosing their work schedules, or "request new vacation changes", states a leaked internal memo circulated on Thursday.
City of Winnipeg chief corporate services officer Michael Jack told reporters on Thursday the move isn’t retaliatory; the policy change is meant to encourage union members to accept the city’s latest — and what Jack said is its last — collective bargaining offer.
"This move is being instituted solely to get to a negotiated collective agreement. This is simply to provide that incentive to get this thing done," said Jack. "The city needed to be absolutely clear it has made its final offer, and it needs an agreement soon."
The city gave ATU members a deadline of Aug. 17 to accept the 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.
Jack said the union’s job actions, including an overtime ban implemented in June, effectively brought the collective agreement between the union and the city to an end.
"One of the benefits of having a collective agreement is you have benefits like seniority and the ability to pick your routes and your days off on the basis of seniority," he said. "Without a collective agreement, the city is free to manage as it sees fit."
Jack did not rule out the possibility of a lockout.
"Every option remains on the table," he said.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president Aleem Chaudhary said the union is "disappointed" in what he sees as bullying and intimidation tactics by the city.
"It's a very difficult situation we've been put into," said Chaudhary. "I guess the city finds it is easier for them to intimidate the operators than it is to fix the problems that they’re facing… (We’re) very heavily disappointed at the fact that they have chosen this route, but at the same time we will consider all our options."
Chaudhary said the union has not ruled out the possibility of a September strike, but it’s not their ideal scenario.
"Like I said from day one, we do not want to inconvenience our riders," he said. "If push comes to shove, (a transit strike) can happen. But we don't want to go there unless we really, really have to."
Chaudhary said the city’s latest action will have a disproportionate impact on members with families as they struggle to schedule their shifts around school and extracurriculars.
"They choose their work according to their family lives, and unfortunately they won’t be able to do that and that is putting them in a bad situation," he said. "It is hurting people, and they're doing it on purpose. And that's wrong."
Chaudhary said he hopes to meet with representatives from the City of Winnipeg to work out a deal.
"Let’s sit down, let's talk about it," he said. "I think it’s something we can accomplish in the next few days if given the opportunity."