Striking Ottawa transit workers have until 8 p.m. to accept or reject the city's latest contract offer, which will determine whether or not the longest transit strike in the city's history will come to an end.

The Amalgamated Transit Union's executive has urged its members to reject the offer and insists workers will overwhelmingly vote 'no.'

"I think what the city is doing right now is absolutely unacceptable. They're trying to dictator and they're forcing us to go to vote," said Gurbakhshish Bal, who's been a bus driver for 27 years and voted to reject the offer.

"It's hard on every one of us also. We sympathize with the public, we know what they're feeling," added bus driver Suzanne Pelletier, who maintained the strike is about protecting the rights of OC Transpo employees.

Students rally to support strike

Striking workers were welcomed by a small group of university students who held a rally to show support for drivers as they headed into Ottawa's Civic Centre to cast their ballots.

"My partner has to carpool to work and I have to get rides and walk a lot, but this is also about getting a fair contract," said student and union supporter Doug Nesbitt.

"It's also about having a workforce that drives our buses that are fairly treated. Those are the type of drivers I want on our streets. I don't want drivers whose quality of life is being pushed down."

Still, Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien says he believes the city's offer is a fair deal that has public support.

Heated argument

However, not all transit workers are in agreement about the strike. At least two OC Transpo workers butted heads Thursday in a heated argument about how the union handled an information session about the contract offer earlier this week.

One of the drivers argued a city representative should have been allowed to attend the meeting to answer any questions workers had about the contract.

Although OC Transpo manager Alain Mercier had asked to be at the meeting, the union's executive refused to let him attend.

Results on Thursday's vote are expected to be released late tonight.

What happens next?

A vote to reject the contract would put mounting pressure on the federal government to make OC Transpo an essential service and order drivers back to work.

Transport Minister John Baird, however, has said declaring OC Transpo an essential service would need full support of the House of Commons and the Senate in order to move the legislation through quickly.

Even if the contract is approved Thursday, all OC Transpo buses will stay parked for five to six days while mechanics service the vehicles.

If the 30-day transit strike continues, the city will consider opening the Transitway to traffic, implementing more free parking and reviewing parking rates.

The main sticking point of the dispute remains control over bus driver scheduling. OC Transpo wants more control over the shifting of drivers. The union wants to keep the current system that rewards seniority.

About 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