Latest round of transit talks fall apart
Published Friday, January 23, 2009 7:34PM EST
Informal talks between the City of the Ottawa and the Amalgamated Transit Union broke off Friday afternoon on Day 45 of the OC Transpo strike.
Mayor Larry O'Brien told councillors in a memo that the union has put additional demands on the table, but did not offer any details.
"The federal mediator has suggested that since the parties continue to be so far apart on their demands there is no benefit in continuing mediated talks at this time, but they are willing to work with both parties in the future to achieve a settlement," O'Brien wrote.
The city will spend the weekend reviewing both sides' bargaining positions before appearing at a special council meeting on Monday.
ATU Local 279 President Andr� Cornellier told members that "we will get through this" in an open letter Friday.
"We will achieve a fair contract," he wrote. "And we will soon be back to work. Just stand together a little longer."
Jellett pushes property tax rebate
A city councillor is pushing for a tax rebate for property owners now that the transit strike has moved into its seventh week.
"It's something that needs to be considered," Coun. Rob Jellett told CTV Ottawa.
"Yes, we're going to have some extra costs because of the strike -- policing costs and certainly the social services costs that we weren't expecting -- but at the end of the day, if there's money leftover, we should look at giving it back to the people," he said.
The city is saving about $3 million per week as a result of the strike. Currently, the average household in Ottawa pays about $600 per year for OC Transpo in the urban transit levy.
Jellett says the best way to rebate taxpayers is to lower the 2009 tax bill.
"It wouldn't be wise to send a cheque out in terms of a rebate, but if we can lower the transit levy for the 2009 bill that would solve the same thing," he said.
ATU members have been without a contract since April and argue changes to bus driver scheduling remains the main sticking point of the dispute.
Although both sides have held informal discussions with federal mediators, there is no word on whether a deal to end the strike is in the works.
"It's certainly encouraging that the two sides are with a mediator and I'm glad to see that. And both sides have to sit down. They have to talk it through and come up with a compromise," Jellet told CTV Ottawa. He said he couldn't comment further because of a media blackout.
Residents caught in the middle
Meanwhile, the lack of transit has caused distress to bus riders and non-bus riders alike. Many have written to tell CTV Ottawa that they have lost their jobs, dropped out of school, or face eviction.
Motorists also say their pocketbooks are pinched after forking out more money in gas to ensure friends and family are getting where they need to be.
But stories of compassion and gestures of kindness have emerged amidst the hardships caused by the six-week-long strike.
Nick Zinck hoped for an alternative to walking five kilometers to work on a blustery winter day.
With one honk of a stranger's horn, his wish came true.
Jim Broomer saw Zinck walking with his head down and decided to stop.
"It was pretty windy and cold, so I figure, (a) bus strike going, let's give him a chance," Broomer told CTV Ottawa.
"It makes me happy that there are some nice people in the world," said Zinck.
Mike Pitre of Carleton Ford is offering charities a deal they can't refuse: a used car for the lease price of $1 to help people get around. He's appealing to other area businesses to follow suit and join forces.
"We've decided to give four vehicles, now that's not a whole lot, but it's something," Pitre said. "It's a way of getting things started."
Ginny Ellis isn't about to sit back and watch people get left out in the cold.
"There are so many people affected by this strike, and it's terrible weather on so many days, and anything that can help someone else I think is worthwhile doing," she said. "People are so grateful if you can make their day easier, (so) why not?"
Rally on Parliament Hill
Residents say they want the government to put an end to the transit strike, which many argue has "crippled the city."
Although federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose has said she will not legislate OC Transpo employees back to work, community members are organizing a rally to protest the strike Monday at 10:30 a.m. on Parliament Hill.
With a report from CTV Ottawa's Vanessa Lee