Mediator intervenes on day 34 of Ottawa transit strike
Published Tuesday, January 13, 2009 5:40AM EST
A federal mediator met with the City of Ottawa Monday in an effort to determine if there's any reason for both sides of the city's public transit dispute to return to the bargaining table and work out a deal, which would put an end to a transit strike that has caused commuter havoc in the nation's capital for 34 days.
By early Monday evening, union leaders said they had not heard from the federal mediator, even though they are ready to go back to the bargaining table.
"Our sense is that today, they're catching up on the parties' positions because it's been sometime since they've been involved, trying to find out what movement or flexibility each party may be now open to, so they can see if there are good opportunities for assisting the parties to get a deal at this point," said Pamela Chapman, a labour law professor at the University of Ottawa.
The renewed efforts to get both sides back to the negotiating table come after the Amalgamated Transit Union voted 75 per cent in favour of rejecting the city's latest contract offer in a federally ordered vote on Thursday.
The city is now moving forward with several measures to help residents deal with the strike.
Organized shuttles, such as those operated by colleges and universities, will be able to use the Transitway once permits are issued and driver training is complete.
City council is also expected to discuss the possibility of hiring replacement transit workers at a council meeting on Wednesday.
Transit workers speak out about scheduling
Meanwhile, striking transit workers spoke out Monday in an effort to help the public understand the scheduling issue, which remains at the heart of the debate.
Drivers say if they give in to the scheduling demand, their quality of life will be compromised.
"You would be available to them from six in the morning for a two-piece work, up until 10 o'clock that evening. That's what the allowable is in the current contract. That's why there was such a strong 'no' vote. Our drivers could not accept that," said Craig Watson of the Amalgamated Transit Union.
The union also said it wants to clear up some misconceptions about who is in charge of scheduling: the city has always been in charge of scheduling, not the union.
Watson says drivers just want to be able to choose which shifts they work, based on seniority.
Drivers also want what they call 'adequate' recovery time between runs. Watson says this would help buses run on-time and give drivers the opportunity to stop for a bathroom break.
Transit union officials say they plan to attend Wednesday's council meeting to answer any questions people may have and clear up any more misconceptions about why they turned down the city's latest offer.
Residents weigh in
In the meantime, Ottawa city councillors say they've been flooded with feedback from residents who are frustrated by the dispute.
"We're getting a lot of messages from many people saying, 'Stick it out, stick to your guns.' Many others will say, 'Look, we've got to get this done. Let's start showing leadership here, let's get this thing resolved,'" Coun. Rainer Bloess told CTV Ottawa.
"I think the message is, find a solution here; make it happen, but don't give away the farm."
More than 2,300 OC Transpo drivers, dispatchers and mechanics walked off the job Dec. 10, after working without a contract since April.
With a report from CTV Ottawa's Vanessa Lee