After the city sent what it called its “final offer” to the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the union has responded with a counter-offer that includes an overhaul of Winnipeg Transit’s scheduling and a mental health professional available to ATU members, with a wage increase lower than the city’s previous offer.
The previous agreement between the city and the ATU expired in January 2019 and negotiations have been ongoing since.
The counter-offer is a response to the fourth offer from the city, but the third the ATU has brought to a vote — an offer from the city was rejected without bringing it to ATU members in July.
The union overwhelmingly rejected the city’s last offer, with approximately 93 per cent of the ballots voting against it.
The ATU has proposed a wage increase of 7.75 per cent over four years in response to the eight per cent over four years previously offered by the city. The ATU had previously proposed a wage increase of 11 per cent over four years.
ATU Local 1505 president Aleem Chaudhary said the decision was made to respond with a lower wage in exchange for scheduling concessions.
“We want to be able to address our working conditions, we want to put the money toward that,” he said.
“We’re giving the city the opportunity to give us a decent wage increase and to be able to put some money towards our working conditions, which we have been fighting for, which one of the main things is the scheduling.”
Concerns over working conditions and “respect from management” are a priority over wages for most ATU members, according to Chaudhary.
Part of the changes include a citizen oversight program for Winnipeg Transit’s scheduling committee, a change Chaudhary said “just makes sense.”
“I think it’s important to give the riders an input as to how the schedules are run and then they will be able to verify what the needs are,” he said.
Also new in this counter-offer is a guaranteed five-minute recovery time for drivers at the end of routes, who may use the time to use the bathroom or stretch their legs. Chaudhary noted the ATU was willing to be flexible on breaks at the end of shorter routes — bus routes typically range from half an hour to two hours.
“Without that, we’re having people go off on stress leave, or people are getting into accidents and incidents on the bus because they’re short-tempered, they’re stressed out, and we don’t need that,” he said.
At the beginning of the month, the city implemented restrictive measures that would no longer accept trade or shift requests from bus operators, would reject all new vacation change requests and, should the city and the ATU not reach an agreement by Sept. 1, would remove the workers’ ability to sign up for their days off and schedules.
At the time, Winnipeg’s chief corporate services officer Michael Jack said in a press conference the move was not meant as retaliation, rather an “incentive to get this thing done.”
Chaudhary said he believed the tactic was intended to intimidate union workers.
“It has frustrated them, and they’re very, very upset, and I think what the city had wanted to do was upset them and force them back into accepting this contract that they’re offering right now,” he said.
“But I think it’s working the opposite — they are very, very frustrated, nobody likes to be forced into any situation, and I think doing that was a big mistake.”
Should the ATU initiate a strike, it will be the first in over 30 years — the last Winnipeg transit strike was in 1976 and lasted for six weeks.
A response to a request for comment by the Manitoban to the City of Winnipeg said the city was “disappointed the ATU membership has chosen to reject our final offer.”
It also stated the city would be reviewing the counter-offer and refused to give further details.
Chaudhary emphasized the only way for citizens to not be able to access transit services in the near future will be if the city calls for a lockout — even if the city rejects this offer, the ATU is not currently looking at striking as a possibility.
“I can guarantee you right now, we’re not looking at a strike,” he said.
“We’re not considering it at this given point right now, but all our options are open.”