Grand River Transit bus drivers reject contract proposal, to begin striking Tuesday

A Grand River Transit bus travels down Krug Street in Kitchener during Wednesday's storm. Kevin Nielsen / Global News / File

The Region of Waterloo says it was caught off guard after the union representing Grand River Transit (GRT) employees announced that members had rejected a tentative agreement Sunday.

“Certainly last night when I heard the news, I was, I would say surprised and disappointed,” Region of Waterloo CAO Mike Murray told Global News.

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Unifor Local 4304 members, which include drivers, mechanics, vehicle service attendants and dispatchers at GRT, voted Sunday against the deal their bargaining team had tentatively reached with Waterloo Region on Jan. 13.

Murray says it is up to the union whether the buses will run on Tuesday.

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“That’s a decision that’s up to them at this point, because we’re not aware of what the outstanding issues are from their perspective,” he said. “There’s no mechanism for us to deal with those right now and so, you know, our encouragement to them would be to continue to provide transit service.”

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The union says it is in an immediate strike position and will walk off the job at 5 a.m. If there is a strike, service will be disrupted on conventional buses as well as Bus Plus and MobilityPLUS services, the region said.

“We brought the best agreement forward,” Local 4304 president Tim Jewell said of the unexpected decision. “Our members have the democratic right to vote it down and they did. They want us to go back and work harder for them, which we’re intent on doing.”

Jewell says his members have safety, discipline and wage concerns which were not addressed in the tentative agreement.

“Our members spoke very, very loud and clear that the region didn’t move on the issues that were dear to them,” Jewell said.

Both sides say there have discussion between the two camps on Monday morning.

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“We’re letting the region know are our concerns and we’re willing to get back to the table when they are, “ Jewell said.

Murray said: “Our lead negotiator and theirs are talking this morning to basically talk about next steps and where do we go from here.

“We need to work through that and see where we go from here.”

Murray said that GRT customers can keep up to date on the status of the pending strike through the region’s website or on social media.

“We’ll do everything we can to provide updates over the course of the day, particularly about the status of transit services,” he explained.

“In the meantime, transit riders probably should be making contingency plans just in case they choose to withdraw service tomorrow morning,” he said.

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