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Shifting gears 

Metro Transit and the transit union may have struck a last-second deal, but will lingering bitterness hold back our buses?

The tentative agreement that kept Metro Transit buses rolling and ferries chugging this week has been sent to HRM council and to membership of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 508 for ratification.

Details of the five-year contract will not be made public until the agreement is ratified by both sides.

During negotiations that ran hard up against the union's strike deadline early Sunday morning, sticking points included wages, the right of senior employees to choose shifts they want to work and mandating hours of rest into schedules.

With the tentative agreement in place, everyone's happy, right? That's sort of the case.

"It boils down to who was willing to inconvenience the general public," says Dan MacDonald, ATU Local 508 president, about the union and Metro Transit management's ability to—with the help of provincial conciliator Charlie Weir—hammer out the deal.

He feels less conciliatory toward HRM councillors who, he points out, give "marching orders" to Metro Transit. "They're worrying about the cat by-law and they're not worried about how to move 120,000 people around this city, I mean, "excuse me.'"

MacDonald continues: "We have a few councillors who are quite willing to put people on the street without any due respect to the taxpayers. And I'll say who one of them is: It's Harry McInroy . Basically what I've been told from my sources is that he said "let them go on strike.'" The union leader wouldn't divulge his sources.

In an initial email response, McInroy writes: "The only comment I made throughout the negotiation process is the brief reply below to Rick Dexter's email. That is all I can think of that may have prompted Mr. MacDonald to make the false claim he has made. If this is his "source," I find it outrageous my simple response below would be misrepresented in such an inflammatory way. Throughout I wanted a negotiated settlement every bit as much as Dan did."

Dexter's email to McInroy, from September 26, reads: "The ATU would like to let everyone know that we have filed 48 hrs strike notice, the HRM bargaining team has decided by the way of an unpalatable offer to force us into this position."

Councillor McInroy replies: "Thanks, but Metro Transit Management advises Council."

On the phone, McInroy again dismisses MacDonald's charge and says he's happy the union and management were able to come to an agreement. The Cole Harbour councillor says he's more concerned with how Metro Transit will handle growing demands on his service and he wants to see shuttle-bus routes extending into suburban developments so that people can reach MetroLink stations without driving their cars.

"The parking lots fill up right away and then we have to expand the parking lots. As much as possible we shouldn't have people driving a car to get a bus," McInroy says, adding that new routes throughout the system will lead to more hiring. "I expect we'll be hiring more people. We're buying more buses in the next few years."

Without going into actual numbers, MacDonald says the new agreement guarantees the labour will be in place before new routes are announced. "This collective agreement will make sure the drivers and the ramping up will be in place before the service is put on. The way this collective agreement is written it's "if they don't have the bodies, they don't have the service.' Council just can't just call up and say "we need 15 new routes in place.'"

With buses going into new residential and shopping developments, the creation of the U-Pass (reduced-cost passes for university students) and new campuses being built, suburban and shopping development and MetroLink express lines developing, the pressure on the system to grow is building. "We have hired new drivers in the past couple of years. I don't have the exact number. I think it's 40 new drivers who've come on in the past few months," offers Lori Patterson, public affairs manager for Metro Transit.


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