Edmonton DATS drivers rallying for wage parity with other city bus drivers

The City of Edmonton is in negotiations with the union representing DATS drivers, who want a new contract. (Laura Osman/CBC - image credit)
The City of Edmonton is in negotiations with the union representing DATS drivers, who want a new contract. (Laura Osman/CBC - image credit)

The union representing operators of Dedicated Accessible Transit Services (DATS) buses in Edmonton has launched a public awareness campaign aiming to help the drivers achieve wage parity with counterparts who drive other city buses.

Local 569 of the Amalgamated Transit Union is currently in contract negotiations with the City of Edmonton on behalf of Edmonton's DATS drivers.

DATS is a door-to-door transportation service for people who can't use regular transit because of physical or cognitive disabilities. The service is administered by the Edmonton Transit Service (ETS).

The DATS drivers' most recent collective agreement expired in December 2021.

Steve Bradshaw, president of ATU Local 569, said the term of the new agreement is a matter of negotiation and the final outcome will depend on several factors for both parties.

He said the city and the union both brought several issues to the table, but "the wage parity issue is the main obstruction to getting an agreement."

The public awareness campaign was precipitated by negotiations hitting a stalemate, Bradshaw said.

"Part of the whole process is we need to go public, we need to talk to the clients that they serve."

Submitted by Steve Bradshaw
Submitted by Steve Bradshaw

DATS drivers, their co-workers and users of the service are being encouraged to sign a petition and wear buttons demanding equality.

"[DATS drivers] have a higher role than what conventional transit operators have, in that they provide a caregiver role to their DATS clients," Bradshaw said.

"We can't find any reason why they'd be treated as less."

He said there are about 130 DATS operators and 1,700 drivers of conventional ETS buses in Edmonton.

A spokesperson for the City of Edmonton said the city would not comment as negotiations are ongoing.

Wage differences

Pay rates for Edmonton bus drivers vary according to seniority. After about three years on the job, DATS drivers earn $33.77 per hour while conventional ETS drivers get $36.45 — a difference of $2.68 per hour.

For drivers working full-time, that could mean an annual difference of more than $5,000.

Union representative Daryn Kreutzer, who has been a DATS operator for 13 years, said his main concern is the symbolic weight of that difference.

"It's not so much about the money, it's about the equality," Kreutzer said.

"If being considered equal means that we get paid the same, then so be it."

He said DATS drivers don't have the same ability to move up the ranks within ETS, such as into LRT or supervisory positions.

The differences make it difficult to retain employees, Kreutzer said.

DATS buses don't run on set routes like conventional buses.

Kreutzer said drivers are assigned daily routes that sometimes see them drive to all four corners of the city, picking up and dropping off riders.

Passengers often use wheelchairs or mobility scooters, and drivers help them get into and out of the vehicles.

"I'm still doing the job because I love the clients," Kreutzer said. "They're the main reason I'm there."

ATU 569, which represents bus drivers and other employees in Red Deer and St. Albert as well as Edmonton, says in many other jurisdictions, drivers of DATS-type buses earn as much as drivers of conventional buses.

That's the case in Red Deer and St. Albert.

In Calgary, they make around $6 less per hour than conventional counterparts.