Growing calls for intervention as Montreal school bus strike continues into 4th month

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Growing calls for intervention as Montreal school bus strike continues into 4th month
WATCH: Frustrations are mounting among parents and school boards as the ongoing Transco bus strike enters its fourth month. As Global's Brayden Jagger Haines reports, with negotiations stalled, there are growing calls for the government to intervene – Feb 27, 2024

The mad dash of dropping the children off for school has turned into a marathon for some Montreal parents like Priscilla Cho.

“It is tough. I used to drop my kids off at 8:30 on the bus. Now I have two kids that I have to drive to school, one to the junior and the other to the senior campus,” Cho said.

Forced to rejig work schedules, she is one of the many parents who have been struggling with the new reality.

Since the fall, bus drivers have been on strike, leaving some 15,000 students without a ride to and from school.

“It moves everything later. We have to co-ordinate with the other families or walk to school. It’s very inconvenient,” parent April Reding said.

Eager for the labour dispute at Autobus Transco to be resolved, Minister of Labour Jean Boulet met with the employer and the union on Friday.

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“I wanted to put pressure on things to move forward and resolve this conflict,” the minister said in an interview.

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The file is bogged down and it concerns the remuneration of the 350 bus drivers represented by this union, attached to the Federation of Public Service Employees, affiliated with the CSN.

Salaries remain the biggest sticking point.

Autobus Transco has put on the table a 20 per cent increase for the first year and 33 per cent for the six-year contract — an offer the union says is too low.

“Applying an average of what has been gained for the other companies outside of Montreal wouldn’t be fair,” CSN union spokesperson Marcel Boudreau said.

The employer has offered on more than one occasion to resort to arbitration to resolve the dispute, but the union has so far refused, saying there is still room for negotiation.

“We already have three parties in the negotiations. Bringing in a fourth wouldn’t bring any good,” Boudreau said.

Boulet said it would be beneficial for both parties.

“If I have the consent of both parties, I will refer to an arbitrator the next day and that will put an end to the labour dispute,” Boulet said.

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“There is no reason not to accept that an arbitrator looks into this matter. It takes into account the competition, the competitors, the working conditions which are in the collective work agreements of the same nature. And it is an expert, a third party, who is neutral, impartial and objective.”

Boulet has already deployed part of his arsenal to try to resolve the impasse: he assigned a first conciliator to the file in October 2023, then a second conciliator last February.

The Transco union says buses would be back on the road if sent to arbitration. It sees it as the only path to resolution.

“We’re unable to find common ground. When you have that you are trapped, and you need arbitration,” Transco spokesperson Claude Breton said.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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