The head of the union representing close to 900 Hamilton, Ont. transit workers set to strike Thursday, says little was accomplished Tuesday after negotiators decided to call off talks in the early afternoon.
ATU Local 107 president Eric Tuck said city staff and the HSR didn’t bring anything new to the table and opted only to discuss strike protocol for Thursday when buses stop running.
“The employer started the day by offering us a set of strike protocols, which we refused to sign,” Tuck explained.
“We then asked the employer straight out if they had anything further to offer in the hopes of averting a strike or disruption of service … the employer made it clear … they had nothing more to improve that final offer.”
Tuck said riders should expect service to go dark at midnight on Thursday since talks Tuesday centered on strike protocol, like where pickets can set up and where the busses can be parked.
Hours before, two city representatives said they were optimistic a deal could be reached to avoid a municipality-wide strike Thursday.
However, the city’s executive director of human resources Lora Fontana hinted early Tuesday no new deal was coming to the table.
“So we remain optimistic, also want to respect the collective bargaining process and let the folks that do their work,” Fontana said.
Acting city manager Carlyle Khan said from the city’s point of view, it’s now a “wait-and-see” situation over the next few days.
“So I think that if they work together … be creative and look for solutions … keeping in mind (it’s) the customers that are impacted, they will have a positive outcome,” Khan said.
In a statement Tuesday night, the city said a meeting earlier in the day was adjourned when the ATU was unwilling to reduce monetary demands and didn’t agree to strike protocols.
The City’s says the current offer declined is around $80,000 in the fourth year of the agreement, representing a salary increase of 12.75 per cent over the life of the contract.
Tuck says members showed up “in record numbers” Sunday, agreeing with negotiators’ recommendations to reject the city’s last contract offer made Oct. 24 that they say doesn’t keep up with growing inflation.
He insists the decision was not made lightly and that withdrawing services for “dependent Hamiltonians” is not desirable.
“We haven’t done it in the last 25 years,” Tuck said.
“But there are times when given the economic times in the market that we’re living in where you have to demand wages to keep pace with inflation and are reflective of that market.”
Transit workers voted 94 per cent to reject the city’s last offer and say there are other GTA transit agencies, like Brampton and Mississauga, that have better packages for workers, creating a vacuum in hiring and retaining workers.
The union boss says the critical part is the retention of skilled trades workers in the city’s garages, which he insists are running short ahead of a venture to bring a new multi-million-dollar bus storage and maintenance facility beside the Wentworth Street North public works garage.
“There’s no way we’re going to be able to fulfill all the needs of that garage with our skilled trades if we cannot improve the wages of our skilled tradespeople,” he insists.
Fontana downplayed that notion Tuesday, saying the city has not experienced any “unusual or high” turnover with transit in maintenance or in operations.
She went on to say that what they are offering in pay would put their operators third in Ontario for salary, behind Brampton and Mississauga who make $3 more per hour.
“With what we’ve proposed, they would be earning almost $80,000 a year and that is exclusive of any overtime or premiums,” Fontana said.
Tuck would later counter by saying Go Transit wages, as well as what TTC workers get was left off the city’s list of examples which actually places HSR workers sixth or seventh in Ontario.
“We know for a fact that Mississauga is in negotiations and they’re already $3 ahead of us,” said Tuck
“The reality is my members can go 45 minutes to a half-hour down the road and get a job for $3 to $5 an hour more.”
Hamilton’s last transit strike was in 1998 and lasted 12 weeks.
Khan’s advice for riders who will have to cope with the potential lack of bus service is to seek out some sort of carpooling or ride-sharing, including the use of the city’s Smart Commute website.
Outside of those options, the only other contingency is a recommendation that users walk or cycle, if weather permits, or ask an employer for permission to work from home.
“I think we’re going to be all in the same boat if there’s a labour disruption,” Khan said.
“Hopefully before Thursday morning, we reach some form of a settlement. ”