Students prep for Winnipeg Transit strike; labour expert warns sides far apart

Click to play video: 'University of Manitoba Labour Studies professor David Camfield talks about Winnipeg Transit contract negotiations'
University of Manitoba Labour Studies professor David Camfield talks about Winnipeg Transit contract negotiations
David Camfield, associate professor of labour studies and sociology at the University of Manitoba, speaks to Global News' Erik Pindera about the ongoing contract negotiations between the union representing Winnipeg Transit employees and the City of Winnipeg – Aug 23, 2019

In the leadup to the first week of classes, the University of Manitoba Students’ Union has prepared contingency plans for its students who bus to campus while the possibility of a Winnipeg Transit service interruption looms.

“This is a very fluid situation,” said UMSU president Jakob Sanderson. “UMSU’s been working to ensure we’re prepared and the entire campus is prepared, and that students have ample information and resources, if there is any sort of service stoppage.”

The city and the union representing Winnipeg Transit employees remain at odds and the city has repeatedly warned riders to make alternative plans for a September strike. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president Aleem Chaudray has dismissed those warnings as fearmongering — though Chaudray hasn’t ruled out striking as a last resort.

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The student union’s contingency plans include increasing the number of passenger pickup and drop off zones in underused areas of the campus, increasing the storage capacity for bicycles and encouraging students to use ridesharing app GoManitoba.

The student union is also in talks with the university administration to ensure any classes students miss because of a lack of transportation are counted as excused absences.

UMSU issues students their UPass — bus passes included in their tuition — which Sanderson said is its most used service. About 59 per cent or 17,000 students use it daily during the school year.

UMSU is working with Winnipeg Transit to see students refunded in proportion to any time lost during a service interruption.

A labour studies expert points to the length of negotiations — ATU members have been without a contract since January and have rejected four offers so far — as evidence of how far apart the two sides are.

“That says to me there’s some really contentious issues that the employer’s offers are not getting at,” said David Camfield, an associate labour studies and sociology professor at the University of Manitoba. “The key thing, what really stands out, is the concerns around working conditions.”

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Camfield says a transit union-led strike or city-initiated lockout is not inevitable, but a work stoppage is possible.

“It’s a definite possibility because the sides are significantly far apart and because the (City of Winnipeg) has been so consistently aggressive,” he said.

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