Striking Grand River Transit employees rejected pay increase, safety barriers, Waterloo Region says

The main entrance to Grand River Transit's Charles Street Transit Terminal in Kitchener. Nick Westoll / File / Global News

Grand River Transit (GRT) bus service was officially shut down on Tuesday morning at 5 a.m. as Unifor Local 4304 members walked off the job for the first time in its 20 years of existence.

The union, which represents drivers, mechanics, vehicle service attendants and dispatchers at GRT, voted Sunday against a deal their bargaining team had tentatively reached with Waterloo Region on Jan. 13.

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

The region released some terms of the deal that was rejected Tuesday morning as the strike got underway.

It said the proposed deal included a six per cent wage increase over three years for bus operators, dispatchers and service attendants and 15 per cent over three years for mechanics.

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Mike Murray, the region’s chief administrative officer, said he was disappointed by the union’s decision to vote down the proposal which was brought forth by its bargaining team.

“We have worked hard over the last three months and especially over the last two weeks to identify and address concerns raised by the Union, including those related to safety,” he stated. The region’s priority remains achieving a negotiated agreement that includes a fair and reasonable economic package and ensures the safety and security of the community and our staff.”

READ MORE: All you need to know about Grand River Transit bus strike

When asked for comment, Unifor Local 4304 President Tim Jewell said his members had other concerns as well when they voted to reject the proposed contract.

“Wages are one important issue for Grand River Transit employees, but they are by no means the only issue that affects transit workers,” he said in a statement.

“The tentative agreement was recommended by the bargaining committee, but members were very clear that they needed more movement on many major issues from GRT. We’ve communicated on those issues and will not bargain in public.”

READ MORE: Fatal collision involving ION light rail vehicle in Waterloo remains under investigation

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On Monday, he told Global News that those concerns included safety and discipline.

At around lunchtime Tuesday, the region issued a second release which detailed other areas of the proposal.

“Over a week ago, the region and Unifor agreed to install safety barriers on all 278 GRT buses over the next three years beginning in 2020, at an estimated cost of $1.7 million,” the region said. “Every bus is equipped with multiple cameras to provide for the safety and security of members of the public and our employees.”

A spokesperson for the region told Global News that there are no talks scheduled between Waterloo and Unifor at the moment.

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