By Kristie Smith
People who use the Access-a-Bus may have to wait even longer than expected. The Access-a-Bus is a special service for people with handicaps and disabilities. Earlier in the week, city council said managers would drive those buses, but the union said it will prevent that from happening.
The union representing Metro Transit workers is considering blocking Access-a-Buses from leaving the garage next week in response to the city’s decision Tuesday night to reject arbitration in favour of a second attempt at conciliation.
Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union 508 voted overwhelmingly for arbitration. However, the city council has chosen to bring in a provincial conciliator.
Several union members and supporters have been standing outside Grand Parade with signs and bright red T-shirts reading “We Want Back To Work”, answering questions and speaking about the benefits of arbitration to anyone who will listen.
Carl Hines, one of the drivers rallying, said, “We just want to get back to work.”
He says the difference between arbitration and conciliation is indicative of the two side’s motives.
“Arbitration would bring an end to the strike and have reasonable, unbiased results,” he said. “Conciliation is returning to the table to discuss and debate, despite how fruitless that has been over two weeks into the strike, while withholding services to the public.”
“Just let us back on our buses. I miss my people,” said Hines.
Blocking access to the Access-a-Buses would be a reply to an announcement made Wednesday by the city that they will be offering limited bus service as early as Monday to people who are registered Access-A-Bus users for special appointments.
“I’m not sure yet, but that’s what we’re discussing throughout the day today,” Ken Wilson, president of ATU 508, told Metro on Thursday morning about setting up a blockade.
“I’m concerned about passenger safety,” he added when asked why he could take this step. “I don’t know how the public is going to feel about inexperienced, unqualified people operating these buses. To be honest, I think it’s a safety issue.”
“But let me be crystal clear. If we block the buses, we’ll be blocking them from leaving the garage,” he continued. “If they leave the garage, I will not be blocking the public from getting on them.”
Arbitration promised to bring buses back on the road, a sight many in Halifax would have loved to see including protesting senior Sharon Murphy.
Neither side has yet to endorse and agree to conciliation, but ATU 508 is sticking to their message: arbitration is the answer.
“Seniors have it especially rough during this. We can’t always afford to drive and we often have health complications. I myself have had two heart surgeries, and they took away my drivers licences after the last one. It’s a double whammy for seniors,” she said. “I need my bus service. I need to get to the doctors, to appointments, to meetings, and to the hospital.”
However, Murphy stands with the drivers completely. She chats with them, recognizing them from their routes, and no one is particularly rude to the protesters while she’s among them.
“These are my brothers,” she joked, lifting her sign up and returning to the front of the group.
Alex Hay speaks out about the transit strike.