Major shakeup at transit union

The newly-elected president of OC Transpo’s biggest union is adamant he will steer the broken scheduling system — a key factor in the 2008-2009 strike — in the right direction.

Veteran bus driver Craig Watson cruised to victory Saturday morning, securing his position as head of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279.

“Everybody wanted a change,” said Watson, at Hurdman station Saturday, just before starting his shift behind the wheel.

They got plenty. Watson scored 1,024 votes, beating out three other candidates, including incumbent Garry Queale, elected last year. Queale finished with 622 votes, while Marc Scrivener had 38.

Sharon Bow ousted vice-president Mike Aldrich.

The shakeup comes just months after the city inked a new contract with employees. The four-year collective agreement provides salary hikes of 2% annually.

But scheduling for bus drivers, mechanics and dispatchers haven’t been addressed, and that’s Watson’s specialty.

“That’s what I’ve been doing for 10 years,” he said.

“I was involved heavily during the negotiations during the unfortunate period there.”

Leading up to the bitter 53-day winter strike, drivers were being forced to work more than 10 hours straight with no rest, according to the union.

Insiders are applauding the election results.

“The work conditions for the drivers is just atrocious, and they showed it with their voting,” a source told the Sun, calling Watson a “good choice.”

“He is an absolute expert for the systems of putting the schedules together. The city will not be able to fool him about what’s being adjusted in any way.”

As for Bow, “I think there’s confidence that she will do the job.”

Transit commission chairwoman Diane Deans said she’s looking forward to working with Watson and Bow.

“We’ve improved the relationship with the union quite dramatically and I think that has served the transit employees, as well as our customers, very well,” said Deans.

“And we expect that kind of positive relationship to continue with the new leadership at the union.”

Watson has been a familiar face around City Hall.

He recently appeared as a public delegate at the transit commission to discuss scheduling concerns.

Three months ago, he spoke up about the inaccuracy of on-time stats due to skewed GPS data.

July 1 is the start date for the new leaders.

Yogi Sharma was reelected as the assistant business agent for transportation.

kelly.roche@sunmedia.ca

@ottawasunkroche

http://www.ottawasun.com/2012/06/23/major-shakeup-at-transit-union

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