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York Region not seeking provincial legislation to end strike

The Regional Municipality of York will not ask the Government of Ontario to enact back-to-work legislation and end the current York Region Transit / Viva labour dispute, its chair and CEO said today. The region also does not support the province appointing an abritrator to help end the strike.

At a press conference, York’s Chair and Chief Executive Officer Bill Fisch said regional council is sending a clear and strong message to the private companies that supply transit services in York Region and to the union that council does not accept legislation or arbitration as a way for both sides in the dispute to avoid negotiating.

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union’s Local 1587 and Local 113 have been on strike against First Canada, Miller Transport and York BRT Servicessince Monday, October 24.

Fisch said that the region will not intervene in the strike and will not take part in any negotiations, which, he says, “could lead to extraordinary tax rate increases for all regional residents, higher transit fares for commuters, or both. Council continues to insist on a return to negotiations using previously appointed mediators and an immediate restoration of service.”

“York Region wants a fair deal for bus drivers and mechanics, but not at the expense of our taxpayers,” Fisch said. “The reality of the union’s current wage demands would mean a $26 annual increase for the typical York Region property taxpayer or an additional 45-cent fare increase for transit riders. By imposing a great deal of hardship on the ridership and community they serve, the unions have turned on the very people they are asking to foot the bill for their demands.”

According to a York Region media release, union has called for the region to change its business model and act as the direct employer for its transit service. The region contends that this would not remove the risk of future strikes or make it possible to meet the union’s demands to increase wages by 20 per cent. The region says that requesting arbitration without meaningful negotiation circumvents the collective bargaining process — demanding higher subsidies from taxpayers and riders.

In 2011, York Region directed $180 million to public transit, its second largest budget item after York Regional Police. Property taxes already subsidize 63 per cent of the cost for YRT / Viva service at a rate of roughly $340 a year for the average household. Transit fares recover just 37 per cent of the costs. The region says that contracting out transit service is the most effective way of providing the service, and the Region could not provide a publicly owned transit service for a lower cost to the taxpayer and rider.

“In more than 30 years of transit service operation in York Region, we have never witnessed such a complete disregard for the negotiation process at the expense of our residents, families and businesses,” added Chairman Fisch. “It is unacceptable to purposely leverage the personal agendas of a few at the expense of so many. Regional Council will protect the interests of the taxpayers and riders that finance transit.”