Montreal bus drivers, Metro conductors and ticket agents have voted 99 per cent in favour of a strike mandate.
“There has been a lack of respect towards us. These issues have gone on for way too long,” said union president Renato Carlone on Thursday night.
The drivers’ union representing some 4,000 drivers is one of three transit unions currently in negotiations with the transit authority (STM) over new contracts.
The vote for a mandate allows for an escalation of pressure tactics until a deal is reached, with the possibility of a general strike if drivers opt for one.
The sticking point for drivers: speed limits have been lowered across the island for safety but the route schedules haven’t been changed to match. The management of sick employees and pensions are also at the heart of negotiations.
“It’s time that people know that we don’t have the sufficient time to serve the population. My members would have to go faster than the speed limit just not to get insulted and risk altercations with customers,” said Carlone.
While a strike is not definite, some commuters say they understand why Montreal bus drivers are opting for pressure tactics.
“If their contract has just run out, and they are looking to update their work conditions, or at least discuss new terms for their work conditions, then I think it’s definitely legitimate,” said Shirine Aouad, who relies on public transit to get to and from work.
The union says negotiations with the transit authority will continue and drivers hope that an agreement with the STM will be reached before they have to strike.
If it does strike, the union president says the public “should not panic” since essential services such as transit during rush hour and adapted transit will still be provided. Carlone said a strike is seen as the last resort.
“Cutting service is not our goal,” he said.
In a prepared statement, the STM said the union has to give a warning of seven working days before a possible walkout begins.
— With files from Global News’ Billy Shields and the Canadian Press