O'Brien to seek federal help as transit talks break off
Ottawa's mayor will ask the federal labour minister to force striking OC Transpo workers to vote on the city's latest offer after talks fell apart late Tuesday night.
Larry O'Brien confirmed the plan Wednesday morning after the Amalgamated Transit Union slammed his negotiating tactics and warned of a "long, cold winter" for Ottawa bus riders. A judge also forged a compromise between the two sides, allowing the union to stage information pickets outside the world junior hockey championships at Lansdowne Park.
O'Brien has sent a letter to Labour Minister Rona Ambrose asking for a supervised vote of OC Transpo drivers, mechanics, and dispatchers, saying a disconnect has grown between ATU leadership and the rank-and-file.
Transport Minister John Baird responded with a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying the government would be "looking into the possibility of ordering a vote to be held on the final offer."
Mayor, union leaders blame each other for failed talks
The city's Dec. 23 offer included a 7.25-per-cent raise over three years, eight uncertified sick days, and an increased from six to seven hours of guaranteed pay per day.
O'Brien wasn't surprised by the collapse of talks, accusing the union of last-minute backtracking after the two sides had seemingly made progress.
"My negotiating team said it was very clear from the beginning that (the union) had absolutely no interest in coming to an agreement with us," he told CTV Ottawa.
"I'm a little annoyed that they took us down this path."
City of Ottawa officials had scheduled talks for Wednesday, but the ATU released an online statement Tuesday night, slamming the mayor on the scheduling issue. And leaders were confident they had support from the 2,300 striking workers
"The union came to the table tonight to settle this dispute, to put buses back on the road, but Larry O'Brien has made sure none of that will happen," union president Andr� Cornellier said in the statement.
"Mayor O'Brien has ignored the expert mediator's recommendation, and the concerns of many city councillors, he's tinkered around the edges of their last position, and not addressed a single part of the scheduling.
"The Mayor has ignored the original reasons for this scheduling system -- he has decided it will be a long cold winter for Ottawa's transit users."
O'Brien countered that the city offered an arbitrated settlement on scheduling during a Sunday bargaining session, but the union balked.
"In these troubling economic times we can't just weaken to a union who thinks they can push the City of Ottawa around," he told CTV Ottawa.
Information pickets allowed outside Civic Centre
Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland has allowed the ATU to set up information pickets and distribute pamphlets outside Lansdowne Park during the upcoming World Junior Championship if no deal is reached by Friday.
Strikers, however, cannot obstruct people or vehicles.
The City of Ottawa had sought an injunction Wednesday to block picketers from disrupting the tournament. Latvia and Russia play at 2:30 p.m. at the Civic Centre on Friday, followed by Finland and Sweden.
"It's our intent to peacefully show people in this community and that we're on strike. It's one of the limited venues that we have," said Randy Graham, an ATU spokesman.
"It's most unfortunate that the strike will continue. The union was prepared to negotiate to a conclusion - still standing in the way is scheduling."
The junior tournament, along with the Bell Capital Cup, is expected to draw about 35,000 visitors to Ottawa over the next two weeks.
With a report from CTV Ottawa's Jonathan Rotondo