Saskatoon Transit is poised to shut down Saturday night unless the city and transit union reach an agreement about wages and pension plans in the next 48 hours.
The City of Saskatoon served a lockout notice to the Amalgamated Transit Union 615 (ATU) Thursday afternoon. Under provincial collective bargaining rules, the union has 48 hours to respond.
If an agreement can’t be reached, buses will not run after 9 p.m. on Saturday and transit users are advised to look into alternate transportation arrangements if this is the case. Access Transit — an essential service — will not be affected.
“This decision was difficult and hasn’t been taken lightly,” Marno McInnes, the city’s human resources director, told reporters Thursday.
McInnes said the city was “forced” to serve the lockout notice to protect its ailing pension plan, which he said poses a “significant financial risk” to the city. The general pension plan has a $6.7 million deficit and McInnes said the city will have to pay $90,000 a month to support the plan until the transit union agrees to change the terms of its members’ contributions.
“We are concerned for the future of the pension plan and it is a serious matter,” McInnes said.
The city previously offered the union a 10-per-cent wage increase over four years with changes to the defined benefits pension plan — a similar deal accepted by the city’s eight other unions. The transit union voted 91 per cent against that offer in August.
ATU Local 615 president Jim Yakubowski said the vote sends a “strong voice” that the union needs a better offer.
But McInnes suggested the city won’t budge.
“We’ve been fairly consistent, we have the best offer on the table available,” McInnes said. “Those things are not changing.”
Yakubowski said the union is prepared to negotiate over the next 48 hours, but said the city’s seeming reluctance to change its offer “will limit (the) chance of success of the bargaining process.”
City officials said bus passes will be refunded or extended if a lockout comes into effect Saturday. They did not know whether any changes will be made to accommodate increased traffic.
Within hours of the lockout notice being served, transit users were decrying the decision and expressing hope that a lockout would be prevented,
“It’s going to be horrible,” said Marie Isler, a retired Saskatoon resident who was waiting to take the bus from downtown Thursday afternoon. She said a lockout would prevent her from visiting friends who live across the city.
“I’d have to stay at home, or else walk the streets. I can’t stand staying alone in my apartment alone all the time,” she said.
Lance Harde, another Saskatoon resident waiting for a bus out of downtown Thursday, said a lockdown would devastate his ability to get around the city.
“If I want to go anywhere I take the bus. I’ll have to walk everywhere or take a cab, but that’s pretty damned expensive,” he said.
The lockout notice comes after almost three weeks of tension between the city and transit union. Relations between the two parties came to a head before the Labour Day weekend when a backlog of mechanical issues, caused in part by a shortage of mechanics, forced the city to suspend all high school special, university special and downtown direct bus routes.
Some regular buses have been filled to capacity, leaving some riders to wait up to half an hour for another bus