Union representing GO Bus drivers begins strike contingency planning

The union representing 2,200 GO Transit workers is warning that contract talks with Metrolinx are not progressing and that the possibility of a labour dispute is 'very real.'  (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
The union representing 2,200 GO Transit workers is warning that contract talks with Metrolinx are not progressing and that the possibility of a labour dispute is 'very real.' (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

A union representing 2,200 GO Transit workers says contract talks with the transit agency aren't making progress and it needs to begin contingency planning in the event of a strike.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1587 said Wednesday that it has reached out and warned other transit agencies in the Greater Toronto Area of the impasse, and has asked to engage them in planning to deal with a potential strike.

In a letter to TTC CEO Rick Leary, ATU President John Di Nino says contract talks have been difficult, and there is a "very real possibility" of a labour disruption.

"In preparation for the possibility of strike action and the ATU's commitment to safe, reliable, and on-time service we believe it is in the best interest of all who may be affected to open immediate discussions and assist in planning how to best navigate and continue the valued service to our riders," he said in a letter dated Oct. 4.

ATU 1587 and Metrolinx began contract talks in April. The current collective bargaining agreement for the workers expired June 1.

The union received a "no board report" from the Ontario government last month which put its members in a legal strike position on Oct. 1. Thus far, the union has not set a strike date.

In an interview with CBC Toronto, Di Nino said the key sticking point is in talks is language to protect jobs from contracting out.

"Metrolinx, quite frankly, is playing games at the bargaining table," he said. "You know, our demands have been very consistent right from the beginning. And every time we sit down at the table, it looks like it's something new that's come to the table."

Union hoping for TTC cooperation

Di Nino said the union wants to begin talks right away to plan for the possible disruption because GO Transit's services are interconnected with many regional transit services.

"We want to prepare the agencies to try to minimize the impact to the riders, notwithstanding the fact that we have to do what we need to do," he said.

Di Nino said the ATU is specifically asking the TTC for co-operation when it comes putting workers in the position where they might have to cross a picket line to carry out their duties.

Di Nino said the ATU has language in its collective bargaining agreements with other transit agencies like Hamilton, Mississauga, and Brampton that protect their members' right to refuse to cross picket lines. That language does not exist in the TTC agreement.

Di Nino said that could mean altering pick up and drops on some transit routes to avoid GO stations which are the subject of strike activity.

"I think we can avoid all of that by having a secondary plan where potentially we service a transit hub outside of a station," he said.

TTC spokesman Stuart Green said the transit agency had received the ATU's letter and does have "flexible contingency plans" it could implement if needed.

"But before we go there, we would work collaboratively with ATU to understand picket plans and determine if our service would be disrupted," he said. "At this point we have no indication the TTC would be impacted."

Talks continue

Metrolinx said it was continuing to negotiate with the union and remained hopeful an agreement could be reached.

"As these conversations continue, we want to assure our customers that GO Bus services are continuing to operate as scheduled," it said in a statement Wednesday.

The union represents GO Transit bus operators, station attendants, plant and fleet maintenance workers, transit safety officers, and administrative staff. A potential labour dispute would not impact GO's rail network as train operators are represented by a different union.

Di Nino said talks with Metrolinx continue and he's hopeful a strike can be avoided.

NDP Transit and Active Transportation critic Joel Harden said the government could help avoid a strike by scrapping the bill.

"The good news is that Premier (Doug) Ford could put this to rest right away by repealing Bill 124, which is the block here," he said. "The province … can actually pay GO Transit workers the wage they deserve for doing the important work they do."

The press secretary for Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said the province's goal is to keep transit running and avoid a strike.

"Negotiations between Metrolinx and the ATU are ongoing," Dakota Bruiser said in a statement. "We are hopeful that an agreement will be reached as soon as possible."