Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) drivers have voted 98 per cent against the city’s latest contract offer and that sets the stage for potential strike action.
The Wednesday night vote authorizes a strike mandate for the Amalgamated Transit Union local 107, which is fighting with the city over wages, benefits and appropriate bathroom breaks.
Union president Eric Tuck told Global News although drivers turned down the city’s latest offer, his bargaining team is still willing to head back into contract talks.
The union can now request a “no board” report from the Ministry of Labour and start a 17-day countdown to a legal strike.
Meanwhile, Mayor Fred Eisenberger says the strike vote is a usual bargaining tactic, but he remains confident a resolution can be worked out.
“I don’t think that we’re all that far apart,” Eisenberger said. “So let’s continue the negotiations, and I have no doubt that before too long, we’ll get some positive results.”
HSR drivers have been without a contract since the end of 2018.
An issue that’s become central to the 2019 negotiations is time allotted for bathroom breaks during a driver’s route. The ATU is looking for the city to set up dedicated “end of the line” washrooms for drivers with a five-minute window to use them.
At present, the city has agreements with 37 businesses to allow bathroom access to HSR drivers, but Tuck says that “infuses anger” among some passengers — particularly ones trying to get to work on time.
“They want to make their connections. They don’t want to be sitting in a bus for seven minutes, 10 minutes, while somebody goes in to use the bathroom.”
The last strike by Hamilton’s transit drivers lasted 10 weeks in 1998.
Eisenberger says the silver lining in that strike was how close the community became during the worst days of the work stoppage.
“It was like kind of a social atmosphere that all of a sudden changed because people needed to help one another to get to where they needed to go.”
Strike action could put just over 560 bus drivers off the road, according to the union.