July 21, 2019

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Winnipeg Transit drivers offer free rides, send costly message to city

Direct action by local bus operators — which likely resulted in thousands of free rides Tuesday for Winnipeggers — has led the City of Winnipeg to file an unfair labour practices complaint against Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505.

Chief corporate services officer Michael Jack said the city is petitioning the Manitoba Labour Board to hear its complaint against the local transit union on an expedited basis.

“The bottom line is that the stunt the ATU is pulling is causing an area of confusion, it’s causing confusion in the minds of the approximately 1,100 Transit operators. It’s also causing confusion in the minds of riders,” Jack said.

The Free Press spent time riding the Nos. 15, 16 and 18 routes Tuesday, witnessing dozens of passengers travelling free of charge due to a decision by the Transit union to instruct its members not to enforce fares for the day.

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Direct action by local bus operators — which likely resulted in thousands of free rides Tuesday for Winnipeggers — has led the City of Winnipeg to file an unfair labour practices complaint against Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505.

Chief corporate services officer Michael Jack said the city is petitioning the Manitoba Labour Board to hear its complaint against the local transit union on an expedited basis.

"The bottom line is that the stunt the ATU is pulling is causing an area of confusion, it’s causing confusion in the minds of the approximately 1,100 Transit operators. It’s also causing confusion in the minds of riders," Jack said.

The Free Press spent time riding the Nos. 15, 16 and 18 routes Tuesday, witnessing dozens of passengers travelling free of charge due to a decision by the Transit union to instruct its members not to enforce fares for the day.

While riding the No. 16 route in the afternoon, the Free Press saw 36 passengers step onto the bus and not pay a fare, compared to 28 who did.

Although the drivers in question weren’t instructing people not to pay, they declined to enforce the fare, stop riders at the door or say anything when people chose not to make payment.

Drivers on some Winnipeg Transit buses Tuesday declined to enforce the fare, stop riders at the door or say anything when people chose not to pay. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Drivers on some Winnipeg Transit buses Tuesday declined to enforce the fare, stop riders at the door or say anything when people chose not to pay. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

ATU 1505 president Aleem Chaudhary received a letter Tuesday from Winnipeg Transit director Greg Ewankiw. In the letter, Ewankiw claimed the union’s job action was putting "operator safety at risk."

In a written statement, Chaudhary came down hard on Ewankiw, saying city data clearly shows it is fare disputes — not free rides — that predominantly lead to assaults on drivers.

"We are frankly puzzled by Mr. Ewankiw’s letter and his inferences… The assumption that today’s legal job action would expose operators to risk and violence is dumbfounding," Chaudhary said.

At a news conference late in the day, Jack said the city stands by its claim the job action by the ATU — which he repeatedly referred to as a "stunt" — was potentially creating unsafe situations for bus drivers.

"If you’ve got an operator who isn’t aware of this stunt and a rider who’s been led to believe through media reports, through statements made by the ATU, that they shouldn’t be paying that day — that creates a potential area of conflict," Jack said.

In total, Winnipeggers take about 170,000 bus trips each day, which produces roughly $140,000 in revenue. It remains to be seen how many free rides — and much the city loses from unpaid fares — will result from the action.

Jack said the city plans to do an end-of-day review, but wasn’t sure if it would launch a deep dive to determine the precise amount of lost revenue.

Amalgamated Transit Union members wave flags and hand out leaflets Monday to draw attention to Tuesday's job action. Members of the union have been without a contract since January. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

Amalgamated Transit Union members wave flags and hand out leaflets Monday to draw attention to Tuesday's job action. Members of the union have been without a contract since January. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

Chaudhary said Monday the job action was being taken because his members have been working since January without a contract.

"Our operators will not be enforcing the fares and they will not be informing that fares should be paid. It's a job action we're taking in lieu of walking on a picket line. We don't want to disturb our passengers," he said.

The city has issued a warning to Transit operators that if they don't do their jobs properly, they may face "human resource consequences."

On social media, most commenters Tuesday reported bus drivers hadn't enforced payments.

Others said drivers had placed a sign or their hand over the Peggo card scanner at the front of the bus, actively discouraging payment.

However, a few commenters said they saw bus drivers enforcing fares as normal.

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 at 12:54 PM CDT: adds new photo

5:17 PM: Final version

5:44 PM: Updates story

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