The war of words between city hall and its transit union continued this week — and the likely winners are Winnipeg Transit riders, who can keep their change and Peggo cards in their pockets Thursday.
Bus drivers won’t be enforcing fare payments for the second time in two months, due to job action by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505.
The ATU contract expired Jan. 12. Transit members twice — in votes in April and May — overwhelmingly rejected contract offers from city hall.
On Wednesday, each side was blaming the other for the scarcity of meetings and for what appears to be a hostile negotiating environment.
"We’re taking this step because the City of Winnipeg isn’t listening to our proposals and isn’t showing a willingness to bargain in good faith,'' said Aleem Chaudhary, president of ATU Local 1505.
Michael Jack, Winnipeg chief corporate services officer, said the city is not happy with the union’s decision to not have its drivers enforce fare collection Thursday — including special buses for the Blue Bombers' 2019 CFL season home opener at IG Field.
"We don’t consider it legitimate or legal," Jack said. "We’re not happy to be in this scenario."
Chaudhary dismissed the criticism, explaining as the union is in a legal strike position, any job action it takes is considered both legal and legitimate. He said Transit’s own policy does not require drivers to enforce fare collection.
When Transit drivers turned a blind eye to fare collection on May 16, the city estimated the move cost $45,000 in lost revenue. The city filed an unfair labour practice with the Manitoba Labour Board, but the complaint hasn't been heard yet.
If the union makes good on its threat Thursday, "All options are on the table when we’re dealing with someone who is instituting job action, someone who is particularly taking illegal strike action against the city," Jack said.
"We have to consider every tool in the tool box."
The two men also clashed over a recent union news release on a provision of the city’s most recent offer.
Calling it "an outright falsehood," Jack said the statement referring to a city proposal to create part-time drivers — alleging they would be paid less, with no benefits — was incorrect.
"I’m hoping it’s only the result of negligence or stupidity. At worse, it could be a deliberate falsehood," Jack said. "That’s unfortunate. I’m hoping they will correct the record very quickly."
The union had no apologies to make, Chaudhary countered, saying information the city released to the media revealed the proposed part-time drivers would be paid less, and there are no written assurances they would receive benefits.
"Jack is just doing damage control," the union leader said, adding it’s bungling on the city’s part the two sides haven’t met more often.
The City of Winnipeg’s original lead negotiator, Robert Kirby, was seconded in early April to head up the internal probe into the action of building inspectors. He quit at the end of May to take a job in another province.
Kirby’s replacement was on vacation until June 10, and no bargaining took place during that time.
Chaudhary said he recently met with Kirby’s replacement and two additional bargaining dates were set for this week: Wednesday and Thursday.
Jack would not disclose what happened at the Wednesday meeting; Chaudhary said it was only a half-day session for the union side to meet the city’s new negotiator.
The two sides will meet again next week with the aid of a provincially-appointed conciliator (who cannot propose nor has the authority to impose a settlement).
"We’re hopeful we can make some progress Thursday or, if not, then next week with the conciliator," Chaudhary said. "We want to reach a deal that’s fair to both sides but, right now, based on how the city has been acting, that doesn’t seem likely."
Solomon Israel is a full-time reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and for two years, the lead writer for Free Press cannabis news site, The Leaf News. He continues to provide coverage of the cannabis beat while covering business in the city and province.
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.