Veolia refuses arbitration proposal by union to avoid York Region transit strike

TORONTO, Feb. 18 /CNW/ - A proposal by Amalgamated Transit Union to take the York Region transit dispute to binding arbitration in order to avoid a work stoppage has been rejected by Veolia Transportation.

A settlement reached late Sunday night between ATU Local 113 and Veolia was rejected by the union's membership in a Wednesday vote. The parties briefly returned to the bargaining table earlier today but talks broke off when the company told the union it would not improve its offer in any way.

The union then proposed that all unresolved issues be put in front of a neutral arbitrator whose decision would be binding. Veolia refused, leaving the union no option but to call a strike.

If Veolia does not improve its offer or agree to arbitration, a strike will begin next Tuesday morning, February 22. It would affect York Region Transit users in Vaughan and parts of surrounding communities.

"We are waiting until the long weekend is over in order to allow some time for the company to reconsider its hard-line position," says ATU 113 President, Bob Kinnear.

"Veolia is simply afraid of arbitration because they know they would lose," said Local 113 President Bob Kinnear.

"If they really believed their offer was fair, they would jump at the chance to put it in front of a neutral third party. But they can do the math and would rather inconvenience transit users than give up a small portion of their massive profits that they send back to shareholders in France."

The union points out that Veolia charges York Region passengers the highest fares in the Greater Toronto Region and receives higher public subsidies - well over $4.00 per ride, on top of the $3.25 fare - than any other GTA transit service.

"Despite charging passengers and taxpayers a total of nearly $7.50 per ride, they pay their employees the lowest wages in the GTA. And not just a bit lower - a lot lower," Kinnear added. The workers joined ATU Local 113 last summer.

The starting wage of a Veolia bus operator is currently $16.55. It takes five years to reach the top rate of $22.00 per hour, nearly 30 per cent less than paid to Brampton, Toronto and Mississauga transit workers doing the same jobs.

Wages, however, are only part of the reason Veolia workers rejected the settlement, the union says.

"These are highly skilled workers who have great public responsibilities. They are tired of Veolia management's daily disrespect for both their work and their humanity," explained Kinnear. "Yes, wages have to be improved but even that won't help long term labour relations until Veolia's attitude towards its employees improves."

"We hope that the people of York Region will understand that it is the union that tried to avoid a strike but the company wanted one," Kinnear says.

Note: Bob Kinnear will be available for media interviews Saturday afternoon.

SOURCE Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 113

For further information:

Laura Ziemba, 416-712-0412

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Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 113

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