York bus drivers strike could last months, union says
Tens of thousands of York Region Transit and Viva riders endured an unusually frustrating morning commute Monday on the first day of a strike by 560 York transit workers that threatens to be a long one.
“If a two-week strike doesn’t send a message maybe it’ll have to be two months,” said Bob Kinnear, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, which represents 220 Viva workers employed by Veolia Transport.
That group of drivers, mechanics and maintenance workers stood on the picket lines for two weeks in 2008.
No new talks are scheduled with the three private companies that are contracted to run YRT and Viva bus service.
While GO commuters travelled as usual Monday, following a late-night tentative contract settlement between that company’s bus drivers and Metrolinx, YRT and Viva commuters wandered about Finch Station in confusion and anger.
“I don’t know how I’m going to get to work now,” said Toronto resident Michael Anderson, who relies on the VIVA service to travel to his job in Aurora.
“I’m in a shipping department and my customers are going to be affected by this,” he said.
“Work is 45 minutes away. I’m going to be very late now,” said Janet Abella, who didn’t hear about the strike until she arrived at Finch Station where a handful of YRT staff were helping stranded commuters plan alternate routes.
There was similar frustration at York University, where transit officials were also roaming about the bus loop near Vanier College.
“I’m lucky because my mom doesn’t work on Monday so she dropped me off,” said Mari Kusanagi, a third year humanities student. “But for the rest of the week, I’m going to have to get up twice as early to make it for 8:30 class.”
“I’m definitely going to be late today,” said Yogpin Liu, who usually takes VIVA. He was trying to arrange a carpool to make it in to work.
In an effort to ease the stress on commuters, the transit workers – who overwhelmingly rejected contract offers last week from First Transit, Miller Transit and Veolia – will not be picketing, at least for the next day or two.
“We don’t want to compound that frustration. We don’t see any necessity to impede traffic flow. We don’t think antagonizing the public is going to be beneficial,” said Kinnear. “We want the public to recognize these employees are not being compensated fairly.”
The three striking groups represent about 60 per cent of York Region’s transit workers. A fourth group of Veolia employees will continue to provide service in the southwest part of the region, which is also served by some contracted TTC buses.
A complete list of which routes are cancelled and those not affected by the strike is posted on the website.
VIVA and YRT drivers make a little more than $22 per hour, about $7 less per hour than their GTA counterparts.