Negotiations between striking GO Transit workers, Metrolinx to resume Thursday

TORONTO — The union representing striking GO Transit workers said negotiations with their employer would resume Thursday, a day earlier than anticipated, after it accused the transit agency of holding up talks.

The strike that began Monday has cancelled regional bus service across the Greater Golden Horseshoe, causing headaches for commuters.

The Amalgamated Transit Union said Metrolinx, which runs GO Transit, first reached out Tuesday with an offer for the two sides to meet Friday for resumed bargaining. That prompted the union to accuse Metrolinx of delay tactics before the transit agency agreed to move talks up by a day.

"I hope that they heard our demands and they've made the right changes to put forward a contract that will appease everybody," ATU Local 1587 president Rob Cormier said in an interview Wednesday.

The meeting would mark the 21st bargaining session since the two sides started talks on a new contract in April. The union said its roughly 2,200 workers, including bus drivers and station attendants, would continue to strike until a tentative deal is reached.

"The last two days should have been a good indicator as to just how motivated these workers are to get the contract that they deserve," Cormier said.

The return to negotiations was welcomed by some of the thousands of bus riders who had commutes and travel plans upended by the strike.

"It kind of gives me a little bit of hope that they're trying to reach a solution and that they're probably listening to what the customers are expressing because I kind of felt unheard for the past week," said Marwa Alkhalaf.

The 20-year-old commutes from Stoufville, Ont., by GO bus and train to her classes and part-time job at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, Ont.

With buses cancelled, she missed a lecture on Monday and has since made alternate plans that doubled her commute time to nearly three hours, one way.

"I'm a bit overwhelmed. It just came on short notice," she said in a phone interview Wednesday. "I'm really hoping I don't miss much for the following days because tomorrow ... I have a midterm and the day after that I have a lab."

When she called GO Transit customer service to inquire about alternate options, one representative suggested cycling to Oshawa, about two hours away, Alkhalaf said.

"I've always wanted them to have probably better service or offer more buses. But now I just want the buses to come back," she said.

The union last month pushed back an Oct. 31 strike deadline so that members could vote on a contract offer from Metrolinx. When that proposal was voted down by 81 per cent, the union said it would strike Monday.

The union has accused Metrolinx of failing to table a written offer in last-minute weekend negotiations to address key issues, including commitments to prevent contracting out workers to outside companies and to end the practice of half-time pay for bus drivers on mid-shift layovers.

Metrolinx, a provincial government agency, said it did not have enough time to prepare a response to new issues the union raised before the strike began.

"Since that time, we have been working on a revised proposal to present when negotiations resume tomorrow," Metrolinx wrote in a statement Wednesday.

"We are actively engaged at the bargaining table and we will continue to work with our ATU colleagues to reach a deal."

GO trains continue to run as usual and stations are open, Metrolinx said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2022.

Jordan Omstead, The Canadian Press