Saskatoon Transit lockout enters third day
The City of Saskatoon’s lockout of transit workers entered its third day Tuesday with heightened tensions between the two sides and no sign that buses will soon return to the streets.
On Monday during a special meeting of city council, the city imposed a new pension plan on transit workers. In a unanimous vote, council implemented changes they say are necessary to deal with a $6.7-million deficit in the pension plan, citing a letter from the superintendent of pensions.
"It states quite clearly that we need to deal with this scenario that we have, and so consequently we have done that today,” said Mayor Don Atchison.
The pension plan has been one of the key issues in negotiations and dozens of transit workers who packed council chambers during the 90-minute meeting left bitterly disappointed.
The Amalgamated Transit Union that represents workers isn't convinced the pension valuation before council is current -- or accurate. It says the valuation report initially filed at the end of 2012 was re-filed in June. The union says its consultation with an external law firm indicates the pension fund is not in trouble.
"They're using this $6.9-million liability to try and convince the citizens of Saskatoon that they need to lock us out and it's urgent because they have to make the payments,” said Jim Yakubowski, ATU local president
“Essentially, if they were to re-file the evaluation tomorrow, it would show that they are not subject to make any payments - in fact the plan has a surplus."
In an online video posted to the ATU's Facebook page later in the day Monday, Yakubowski said despite what happened in council chambers, the union is not defeated.
He says they have already made plans to fight the changes enacted by council.
"We have filed an injunction against the City of Saskatoon through our lawyer and we've also filed an unfair labour practice and interim relief of this lockout," Yakubowski said in the video.
"We are not defeated today, the city had scripted this all along -- this was a scripted event from the time they locked us out to the point of pushing these pension changes."
Coun. Pat Lorje put forward a motion to send the correspondence between the union and its lawyer to the pension board, which passed. But council still went forward and voted in the changes.
The transit lockout began Saturday night and while some bus riders felt its effect on Sunday, it wasn’t until the work week resumed that the full impact became apparent.
Many were left looking for alternative transportation as they tried to get to work or school Monday.
Bike racks on the University of Saskatchewan campus were full and parking lots, even after the university added additional temporary parking, were jammed with vehicles.
The president of the University of Saskatchewan Students Union said some students simply missed class on Monday because they were unable to get to campus.
"Students aren't being able to come to class because of the transit lockout and that's a loss for students,” said Max Fine Day, “and I think that puts a little bit of shame on Saskatoon city council."
The university is also encouraging the use of its UCommute ride-matching and commute-tracking service.
One way people have been dealing with the lockout is by carpooling and offering rides to those would usually rely on the transit system.
Doug Ramage launched the Facebook page YXE Share-a-Ride to help those seeking transportation connect with drivers willing to offer a ride within the city. Rides are also being offered on the online classified site Kijiji under the rideshare category.
"Regardless of what side you support, at the end of the day our lives continue,” Ramage said. “We need to get to work, we need to get to school, there's people that rely on transit to get to doctor’s appointments, to get groceries, to run errands."
Tina Frerichs was one of the drivers who used the page to offer a ride to those without other transportation alternatives.
“I've had two people; one was very, very grateful,” Frerichs said Monday. “She had absolutely no way of getting to work. She just moved to Saskatoon and she knows nobody and really just tapped on Facebook onto the page and saw my message and where the commute was going and she was able to make arrangements with me and we got her to work this morning."
Atchison is encouraging people to help others when it comes to providing transportation.
"I'm hoping that neighbours, friends and families will get together and carpool - whatever it takes for us to get this done.”
The mayor wasn’t able on Monday to provide an update on the possibility of the city issuing refunds to transit pass users, saying discussions still need to take place.
But in an interview with CTV Morning Live on Tuesday Atchison said he expects some form of compensation will be available.
"We need to do something. People who paid for the service are not getting the service."
Although regular bus service is suspended indefinitely, Access Transit is operating as normal as it is considered an essential service.
The union wants a 22.25 per cent wage increase over five years to bring its members up to average levels for other transit workers in Western Canada, while the city had countered with an offer of 10 per cent over four years.