– Ottawa transit strike issues finally settled

CBC News

OTTAWA

The issues that led to a 53-day transit strike in Ottawa last winter have finally been settled by an arbitrator — resulting in a three-year contract, scheduling changes and retroactive raises.

The city said Friday the decision means the “employer can set operators’ schedules, like other major North American transit providers.”

Scheduling had been the main issue behind the strike by 2,200 OC Transpo drivers, dispatchers and maintenance workers represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279. The employees said a new way of scheduling proposed by the city would take away their ability to balance their work and family lives.

In the report, arbitrator M.B. Keller concluded that, “The manner in which scheduling is currently done at OC Transpo is not the norm. In fact, it is virtually unique.”

The report goes on to say: “We have concluded … that a change to the method of scheduling is warranted. The system that the employer wishes to implement … is the system used in major cities in Canada and is the predominant scheduling method in the United States.”

The ruling also provides:

  • Wage increases of 3.25 per cent in 2008, 2.5 per cent in 2009 and 2.5 per cent in 2010, with no signing bonus.
  • No additional sick days or special leave.
  • No major changes to contracting out.

The arbitrator’s ruling will be incorporated into a three-year collective agreement set to expire in March 2011.

Councillors pleased with ruling

News of the ruling was applauded by Ottawa city councillors.

“I’m sure the union won’t be altogether happy about it,” said Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans. “But when you go to the table, you live with what the arbitrator decides.”

Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans doesn't expect the ATU will be happy with the arbitrator's ruling.

Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans doesn’t expect the ATU will be happy with the arbitrator’s ruling.

Rainer Bloess, councillor for Innes ward, hopes the ruling will mean smoother negotiations the next time the city and the ATU are at the bargaining table.

“I think the arbitrator made the right decision by saying the employer has the right to control scheduling.” said Bloess. “The contract ends in 2011 and certainly I think this sets the tempo for those negotiations.”

Mayor Larry O’Brien was not available for comment but issued a brief statement saying he was “pleased that the decision has been made” so the city can “focus on making OC Transpo the best transit operation in the country.”

“OC management has been instructed to review the specifics of the decision and to proceed with detailing service and scheduling improvements,” O’Brien said.

Union touts ‘major gains’

In a news release, the ATU says it made “major gains” through the arbitration process.

“On key issues such as the minimum and maximum hours that employees can work, the need for better scheduling between runs, and general wage improvements for OC Transpo employees, the Arbitration panel rejected the positions taken by the City of Ottawa,” local ATU president, André Cornellier said.

“The city will not save any money…as a result of this arbitration award.”

53-day strike

Ottawa transit workers walked off the job last Dec. 10 after failing to reach an agreement with the city.

The strike dragged on until federal Transport Minister John Baird, MP for the riding of Ottawa West-Nepean, called an emergency debate on Jan. 29 to introduce back-to-work legislation.

That day, the city and union reached a tentative deal to resolve all outstanding issues with binding arbitration and the emergency debate was cancelled.

Union members ratified the deal on Jan. 31, a day after it was approved by council.

In September, union members rejected a proposal from their executive to give up their right to strike and send future disputes to binding arbitration.

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