The bitter scheduling battle between the city and its bus drivers, mechanics and dispatchers has been squashed by an arbitrator, and negotiations for a new contract could begin as soon as August.
The final arbitration award from Brian Keller was released late Friday, and favours the city’s position on implementing a scheduling system at OC Transpo that’s consistent across the North American transit industry.
While wages, benefits and sick days ranked high, scheduling was the core issue during the 53-day strike in 2008-2009.
Nonetheless, Friday’s decision was rubber-stamped by the bus union head.
“We’re pleased that the award finally came down and we can move on with the 2011 negotiations,” Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 president Garry Queale told the Sun Saturday.
City managers control bus drivers’ schedules, Keller ruled in October 2009, but the union said drivers were being forced to work longer than 10 hours at a time with no rest.
And those scheduling issues from the previous contract had the union holding off on a new deal — ATU Local 279 has been without a collective agreement since April 1.
City managers weren’t going by the book, Queale said, even after Keller intervened.
“There are certain rulings that they weren’t living by, that they must adhere to (now),” he said.
But Queale didn’t comment further on the ruling.
“I don’t want to discuss a whole lot with the media until our membership sees it,” on Monday he said.
Since the strike, a lot has changed, according to Coun. Diane Deans.
“We have a new mayor, we have a new transit commission, we have a new chair of the transit commission, we have a new president of ATU 279,” said Deans.
“And I think from an attitude point of view, a lot really has changed and so I feel very confident that we can move forward together and serve everyone’s interests well.”
Deans said the award concludes a round of difficult negotiations “that hopefully will never be repeated.”
As for the people hit hardest by the strike, “I think the riders can take heart in knowing that all concerned really want to move on. We want to turn the page,” she said.
Queale told the Sun he hopes to have contract talks set up in August or early September.