‘Poor start’ to transit negotiations

By Ruth Davenport

Calgary Transit workers aren’t ready to strike, and say that "work adherence" may not get their point across.

"We don’t want to strike, but it seems to be the only language the city understands," said Dean McKerness, business president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 583.

"We’re off to a very poor start," stated McKerness of current negotiations. "The city and the mediator have been very unavailable, which is frustrating when we’ve made ourselves available for communication since day one."

As of Jan. 9, members of the ATU Local 583 were "adhering rigidly to the rules and regulations of a work adherence program," said McKerness. Simply put, this means bus and LRT operators "work to rule," resulting in reduced services across the city.

The decision to start the work adherence program came after two meetings on Jan. 8, with the 1,950 bus and C-train drivers, and the office and maintenance staff who comprise Local 583. These members have been operating without contracts since December 1999.

McKerness stated a disruption in transit services can be expected until agreements are reached on pay equity and operator seniority clauses between city and union representatives.

University of Calgary Students’ Union president Toby White said he hopes a work to rule campaign doesn’t affect students much. Nearly 7,000 individuals use transit services daily to get to and from the university.

"A strike, if the transit workers decided to go to strike, could be very serious," explained White. "For a lot of students, transit is the only way of getting to class, so we’d have to find some serious alternatives."

The SU, as of this academic year, is part of a national carpool program that White suggests will be strongly promoted in the event of a strike.

"Hopefully, that would be able to help some students, and professors will be sympathetic to all students if it comes down to a really serious situation," said White.

SU Vice-president Operations and Finance Matt Lauzon worries a strike might curb students’ enthusiasm for the proposed universal transit pass.

"If there is a strike, that could change people’s outlook on transit and they might see the transit pass as a very negative thing," mused Lauzon. "What if there’s a strike when we have a U-pass? Then no one’s getting the service they’ve paid for."

McKerness is not optimistic negotiations will lead to a resolution. However, he said a strike vote will not occur unless mediation fails, which could be in late February.

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