HRM rejects new offer from transit union

The city has rejected an offer from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508 that could have ended Halifax’s four-week-old transit strike.

By Philippa Wolff

Eddie Robar, left, and Mayor Peter Kelly speak to reporters. (Philippa Wolff photo)

The city has rejected an offer from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508 that could have ended Halifax’s four-week-old transit strike.

The bargaining team for Halifax Regional Municipality reviewed the offer Tuesday afternoon, but deemed it “too costly,” according to a press release from HRM. The release said that the union’s new offer would cost $7 million more than the current offer from HRM, adding that the city’s offer will remain on the table until 11:59 p.m. Mar. 2.

The union sent in their offer on Monday following the union membership’s rejection of a “final offer” from HRM.

“We came up with a very innovative way to fill that work without … generating overtime and at the same time supporting the union’s position to not having rostering,” ATU Local 508 president Ken Wilson said of the offer Tuesday afternoon.

He added that, from his understanding, the current amount of work being designated as overtime has been a concern for both regional council and union membership.

HRM’s release said the city was not willing to use an “untested” scheduling system.

The union membership voted on HRM’s offer Friday at the Halifax Forum. 78 per cent of the ATU Local 508 members rejected it.

Both Wilson and a news release sent out by the HRM confirmed on Friday that the city’s final offer was a five-year contract featuring a rostering system, which allows for shifts to picked in one-week blocks, to be built with union input. The contract also includes a $1500 bonus for all ATU employees in the first year and wage increases of 2.25 per cent for each of the following four years.

ATU Local 508 members enter the Halifax Forum to vote. (Philippa Wolff photo)

“Council has agreed these terms are liveable,” Mayor Peter Kelly told reporters on Thursday, “but there’s not much more. There is no more on the table.”

In a notice HRM released Monday entitled “Setting the Record Straight” (PDF), HRM also said that Wilson had worked with Robar and conciliators on Feb. 22 and 23 to develop their offer.

“The discussion was just that, it was a discussion,” said Wilson. “It was never an agreement. I never signed any paper saying such. … I don’t have the sole authority to make any agreement tentative. My bargaining committee has to vote on that and the director knows that.”

Wilson said the executive could not unanimously recommend the city’s offer to the membership.

“(The ATU Local 508 executive) didn’t tell (members) to vote either way,” Wilson told reporters after the vote was counted Friday. “You vote with your heart. You vote with your family.”

Union member Elaine Crouse said she voted against HRM’s offer. She’s worked for Metro Transit as a bus operator for three years and “normally enjoy(s) her job very much,” but the proposed contract “wasn’t what (she) was looking for.”

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Elaine Crouse discusses her choice to reject HRM’s offer.

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Danny Leblanc details his dependence on buses and his desire for their return.

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Peter Kelly and Eddie Robar talk to reporters about the offer pre-membership vote.

“It would get us off the street and back to work and money coming back into the households and stuff,” said Crouse. “… However, I really feel like some things are worth standing outside and fighting for and I believe this is one of them.”

Danny Leblanc, a frequent public transit user, found out the city’s offer had been rejected while trying to hitchhike home late Friday afternoon. He said he hopes both the union and HRM “give in a little” to get the buses back on the road.

“The strike’ll go on forever!,” he said. “It’s gonna hurt us transportation-less people. … Oh well. It’s out of our hands, I guess.”

Leblanc noted that if no one drives him, the walk home to Spryfield from downtown is an hour and a half. When the buses are running, he normally takes “five or six” trips a day going between jobs.

The strike entered its fourth week last Thursday. On Mar. 2, the ATU Local 508 will have been on strike for 29 days, beating, Wilson said, the union’s current strike record of 28 days in 1998. (There is limited evidence to back up this figure — a news release from the Halifax-Dartmouth and District Labour Council says the 1998 strike lasted five weeks.)

“Anything past day 28’s unchartered territory,” said Wilson.