How we got here and how we can get out
The City of Guelph is interested, first and foremost, in having Guelph Transit back serving the community as soon as possible. To achieve this, the City needs to reach a reasonable and affordable contract agreement with ATU Local 1189. When transit is running for the community and the City’s employees are back in the workplace, City administration and their transit employees can address workplace concerns and rebuild a positive and productive relationship.
The following details the sequence and rationale behind where we’ve ended up and the continued hope for a fast resolution.
· Exhaustive negotiation
: Months of negotiations through to the end of June including 22 days of bargaining – seven with a conciliator – led to a list of demands from the ATU, which had not yet included a wage and benefit proposal. The union had indicated a wish to reach wage parity with Grand River Transit so we have included those figures in our calculation. The cost of ATU’s demands combined with wage parity with Grand River Transit would be:
o $4.6 million in new dollars over three years
o An additional 2.34% increase to property taxes over three years
o 20 to 30 new unionized drivers to cover requests for vacation days, lieu days, floater days, birthdays off etc.
o No improvement to transit service delivery
· First offer
: On Wednesday, June 25 the City put an offer on the table with a deadline for union response that was missed. When asked if the union would take it to its members the response was it would take it to the members in two to three weeks with a clear endorsement against the proposal.
· Final offer
: On Friday, June 27 the City put forward a “final offer” to ensure a ministry-monitored vote in a faster timeframe.
· Offer rejected
: On July 11 ATU members rejected the vote – 186 voted no and 12 voted yes
· Notice of lockout announcement
: On July 12, Mayor Karen Farbridge and Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert address the media and public to provide two days of notice to the community before suspending Guelph Transit service.
· Tentative agreement
: At midnight on July 13 the City and union executive agree to a tentative agreement:
o The union brought 15 items to the table for consideration andconsensus was reached on the resolution of the items.
o Agreement to resolve that list included agreement on a binding letter of understanding about key workplace concerns raised by the union that fall outside the collective bargaining agreement (e.g. lunchroom and washroom facilities)
o Signed by ATU executive and City administration
o Ratified on July 14 by Guelph City Council
Typically, union executives only accept and take agreements to a membership vote if they are confident they will be ratified.
· Tentative agreement rejected
: Union executive recommend tentative agreement that is “overwhelmingly” rejected by the union members.
· Lockout reinstated
: With the City’s original concerns compounded with an increased disconnect between union executive and members and potential instability within the union, the lockout was reinstated.
· Why lockout
: City makes decision to lockout ATU Local 1189
o A consistent pattern of unexplained and lengthy delays leads City officials to believe the union is trying to delay negotiations to September before taking a strike vote. A September strike would create the maximum amount of disruption to the Guelph community (transit ridership moves from 7,000 per day in July to 14,000 per day in September) and apply political pressure in an effort to force capitulation to union demands.
o Typically lockouts take effect immediately to protect the safety of the community, frontline service providers and property.
o Exhaustive negotiations with a union that hadn’t moved on any items on the table; hadn’t offered wage and benefit requests; and, based on comments in the media, hadn’t been clear about its members’ main concerns
o Working without a contract indefinitely creates uncertainty for employees and service users and continual negotiations is a perpetual drain on public funds.
· Lack of clarity
: The gap between union executive and members on the tentative agreement has not been explained officially by the union to City officials.
The union president and lead negotiator stated in a Guelph Mercury
on July 24 that: “I don’t believe it’s a mystery,” Cleary said of the issues, “which were outlined in a package presented during negotiations last October. They know what was in that package.”
Which takes us back to where we were at the beginning. ATU Local 1189 requests add up to a 2.34% property tax increase over three years to maintain existing service levels for on City department. To put that number in perspective, the 2014 tax increase from the City’s entire operating budget including fire, emergency services, public works, transit, parks and recreation etc., etc. was 2.38% total.
· Union instability
: The union’s negotiating team changed on June 18 with a slim vote margin and a second union executive vote is expected at the end of July. Another change in the negotiating team could mean new priorities, a new approach and, most certainly, more delays.
· Counter offer
: The City has demonstrated its willingness to make adjustments within the Council-approved negotiation mandate as well as its interest in addressing workplace concerns through the binding letter of understanding in the tentative agreement. A reasonable and affordable counter offer would be seriously considered by the City.