WUSA and GRT union clash over right to strike

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Graphic by Gina Hsu

After the ten-day long Grand River Transit strike ended on Feb. 1, 2020, the newly elected Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association promised they would lobby to make the GRT an essential service. 

That  means GRT workers would be forbidden from going on strike. 

“An “essential service” is one that is necessary for the safety or security of the public. Deciding that transit is an essential service is an action the provincial government can take to minimize service disruptions,” Megan Town, the elected candidate for Vice President, Education, said.

The strike over bus driver safety affected commuting plans of over 17,000 students and residents of Waterloo.

“Once I take office, I will be working with our advocacy team to prioritize key topics that are important to students. If this topic is highly prioritized, my next step would be to contact the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development to discuss this issue,” Town said.

The union representing bus drivers, mechanics and dispatchers objected to WUSA’s planned lobbying efforts.

“The union is totally against being an essential service. It takes away our bargaining rights to negotiate a fair contract for wages, job protection, health care, safety, disciplines, camera usage, parity for part-time members and so much more. It would take our right to strike away. If we were an essential service then there would be no ‘good faith bargaining’ because the region would hold all the power,” Tim Jewell, Unifor Local 4304 president, said. 

The union ratified an agreement with the Region on Jan. 30, and resumed full service on Feb. 1. 

“We wouldn’t be able to strike when necessary meaning there is no time constraints on the region to settle a contract,” Jewell said. “Remember, this past strike was the first one ever in the history of Grand River Transit and speaking about essential service because there was a first ever strike is a little pre-mature.

 

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