Oakville transit workers are in their second week of picketing after contract negotiations with the City of Oakville have come to a standstill. Both sides of the dispute are on record as being ready and willing to return to the negotiation table but as of yet, no discussion has been scheduled and transit workers remain on strike.
Contract negotiations began shortly after the contract between Oakville and Unifor ended on January 31st. The strike began February 17th after a settlement agreement was rejected via secret ballot by members of the transit workers’ union, Unifor Local 1256.
“This was a deal that both bargaining teams were satisfied with and agreed to recommend for ratification,” said Phoebe Fu, Oakville’s Commissioner of Community Infrastructure.
“Although the union bargaining committee recommended the new tentative agreement to the members, the members felt that the terms and conditions did not meet their needs,” said Alice Kelly, President of Unifor Local 1256.
“The town remains prepared to meet with the union to reach a resolution and get Oakville Transit services back on the road,” said Fu.
Similar sentiments are echoed by Unifor Local 1256 President, Alice Kelly. “Should the town reach out to us the union is ready and willing to talk,” she said.
Frustration and confusion are palpable at the picket line. “I know our side is ready to meet. We were ready to meet Friday,” said one worker. Still, the town has yet to receive word from Unifor Local 1256 concerning the next steps in the negotiation.
“The union’s bargaining committee has not communicated next steps or the wish to meet and continue negotiations at this time. As such, there are no pending negotiation dates or times,” said Fu.
The union is asking for wage increases comparable to rises in the cost of living, more sick days, and top-up pay for workers scheduled 38 hours a week.
“We don’t get any breaks and we haven’t for years. Some people are doing nine and a half-hour shifts. They don’t even get a 15-minute break,” he said. These claims have not been corroborated by any official union representative. However, Unifor’s previous contract with the city of Oakville specifically allocates enough time for a half-hour break.
“An eating period of not less than thirty (30) minutes will be provided as close to the midpoint of the work shift as possible, provided the shift is not less than five (5) hours,” reads Section 11.12 (a) of the Agreement between The Town of Oakville and Unifor. Regardless of whether transit workers are getting breaks or not, they are contractually and legally entitled to them.
Transit workers across the GTA are also beginning to complain of increased risk of physical assault since the beginning of the pandemic. Picketers maintain however that most public transit users behave reasonably when using public transit.
With the workers on strike and transit services suspended, local commuters have had to make alternative plans. It is unclear when things will be getting back to normal.