Codiac Transpo rally held outside City Hall
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Times & Transcript
By: Tess Alan and Allison Toogood
Topics: Codiac Transit, Labour Relations
Discussions spill into council chambers, as city says the ball is in the union's court
Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local (ATU) 1290 met with a number of Monctonians outside City Hall yesterday, before council met for a regular meeting, to voice their concerns about the ongoing Codiac Transpo labour dispute. The rally was organized in the wake of last week's unsuccessful mediated talks between the City of Moncton and unionized Codiac Transpo employees.
Members of the ATU were well-represented at yesterday afternoon's rally, and continued the cause by filing into council chambers to support ATU president George Turple in his short presentation to the mayor and councillors.
About 50 transit employees and their supporters filled the chambers to near capacity, about half wore red t-shirts declaring 'Don't X Out Public Transit.' Turple made it clear that for him and the rest of the locked out workers, the dispute did not begin this past April; the flame was lit in December 2010.
'We came to the table on December 3, 2010, and entered into an agreement with the city's committee. We shook hands, and they said they would take this to council with a recommendation to accept it,' Turple said. 'Then two weeks later, documents were exchanged pertaining to take agreement, e-mails...then that committee brought it to you and told you not accept it.
That's bargaining in bad faith, and proceeded to file a complaint against the City of Moncton.' If the committee went to council with the recommendation to approve the agreement and council rejected it, Turple says it would have been a different story, and that it would be understandable. He told the mayor that this event almost two years ago was the catalyst to today's tense and dire situation.
'If they came to you folks and you just plain turned it down, that's understandable,' he told the mayor and council. 'You're here as stewards to protect the tax payers dollars but that's not what happened.' Mayor George LeBlanc responded that regardless of the events in 2010, council, city staff and many Moncton people do not agree with the union demands.
'The 2010 agreement in which you say was reached with staff is something that was never accepted by council. It was unacceptable then and is unacceptable now.' LeBlanc remains fir m on what he calls the city's 'generous offer' - a 2.7 per cent pay increase per year - which will allow transit drivers to reach a salary cap of just over $50,000, putting them between what drivers make in Saint John and Fredericton.
'The union's response to that was to take a strike vote and they persist on their offer,' LeBlanc said. 'This has led us to where we are today, and it's not a great position to be in on either side. It's causing great hardship to the people using the system.' Turple said yesterday's rally was staged to provide Moncton citizens put-out by the strike with an opportunity to have their voices heard.
'The system belongs to the people and the people should speak up; they deserve a transit system.
The citizens are the ones who pay for it and they have a right to voice their opinion,' said Turple.
'We live in a vibrant city and we have the opportunity to have a great system that moves lots of people and that's what we should be doing.' Turple said yesterday's rally was meant to act as a signal to the City that Monctonians are upset about the lock-out, that they are in support of the transit system and want to see the dispute resolved as quickly as possible.
'It (the rally) is just to let council know that people are concerned; they need their transit back and it's a very important issue,' he said.
'It's not going to get swept under the carpet; it needs to come into the light. Our city is growing and we need to move this transit system forward in a positive, productive manner.' Nancy Tinch needed no reminding of this.
'Our city is growing and we need a transportation system,' said Tinch at yesterday's rally, sporting a large sign that read: 'Put the public back in transit.' 'I have good friends who use (the bus) almost every day and they're having a difficult time getting back and forth from work. Hopefully the city will see fit to put these people back to work so the public can go back to work again.' Karen Haley said the lock-out had affected her personal liberty.
'I've got to walk everywhere or get someone to drive me; it's taken away a lot of freedom,' she said.
'The drivers to me are more than just bus drivers; most of them are like family. They're my friends and I'm supporting them. I'm hoping they get back to the bargain table, get a fair deal and get the buses back on the road.' Brenda Curwin was quick to agree. She was determined to have her concerns heard outside City Hall yesterday.
'I'm supporting the drivers because I need the bus. The city locked them out and they had no warning, so you can just well imagine how many passengers were stranded that day,' said Curwin.
'My prescriptions are not downtown. I have to go to the Superstore, so how am I supposed to get there?
My family works and I can't afford a cab.' Codiac Transpo bus driver Russell Bainbridge said that if most Codiac Transpo passengers could afford to take taxis, they wouldn't need public transit. He was one of a number of Codiac Transpo employees present at yesterday's rally, and was there in support of his passengers.
'I know all my passengers and I like my passengers. A lot of (them) take a lot of buses on a long way to work, and they go every day. I don't like the way this is going right now and I don't think it's necessary,' said Bainbridge.
'I hope that (the City of Moncton) will realize that the public is supporting the buses, too. We'd like the buses on the roads and the passengers on the buses.' City spokesman Paul Thomson said that while the group had every right to protest yesterday, the city's position on the lockout has not changed.
'They're entitled to hold rallies.
We live in a democracy and that's fine, but the city's position remains unchanged in terms of the lockout,' said Thomson.
'We were disappointed with the results of the talks last week, and we're ready and willing to go back to the table any time, but we think the ball is in the unions' court now.' Thomson added that the city's offer was fair and there are no current plans to go back to negotiations. He said that while the city is sympathetic to those Monctonians who rely on the public transit to get around, it will be up to the union to make the next move.
'We understand it's a really difficult situation for those people who need to get around the city; we feel for them. We want to get this thing settled. Obviously (the union) weren't serious when they came to the table last time,' he said.
'We were consistent with our offer; that's where we stand. Two per cent is still a very competitive increase in this day and age, in this economy and this bargaining environment,' he said, adding that one would be hard-pressed to find other public sector settlements that are higher than two per cent.
As indicated in April 2012, the city's previous offer of 2.75 per cent per year is off the table, and has been replaced with an offer of two per cent per year.
Mediated talks between the union and the City of Moncton ended last week with no movement towards a negotiated settlement.
The union presented two versions of their demands, both higher than their previous demand of a 4.2 per cent annual increase every year for 5.5 years. At the end of the day last week, the union asked for binding arbitration. City council denied that request, a move that Turple said he does not understand.
'What is the problem with going to binding arbitration? Let's put this to a binding arbitration and allow an unbiased third party to make a decision,' said Turple at yesterday's rally.
Turple added that he hopes to see the city become more flexible in their approach.
'(The city) told us they are not moving on their part, that it's take it-or-leave-it. How are you innovative when someone says to take it or leave it?' he said.
The members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1290 have been without a contract since June 2010. The membership voted overwhelmingly in favour of striking back in April, and the City of Moncton locked the workers out June 27.