GO bus riders can breathe a sigh of relief — a strike has been averted — but a walkout by York Region Transit workers began early Monday.
Metrolinx, GO Transit's parent company, said late Sunday that it had reached a tentative agreement with the Amalgamated Transit Union.
Metrolinx said details of the tentative agreement would not be released until the deal is ratified.
However, York Region Transit workers hit the picket lines early Monday, affecting dozens of routes operated by companies contracted to supply service.
They include Miller Transit's 51 routes in Markham, Richmond Hill and Vaughan and 29 operated by First Transit in northern York Region.
About 340 employees represented by Amalgamated Transit Union 1587 are affected by the walkout. About 220 Viva drivers represented by ATU Local 113 also walked off the job, shuttering service on five express routes.
Toronto City Councillor Doug Ford said the labour disruption in York Region is proof that his brother, Mayor Rob Ford, did the right thing in getting the province to take away the right to strike from Toronto transit workers.
“Thank God that Rob made TTC an essential service because we aren't facing the problems that all the other folks are facing today, “ he said Monday morning.
Union leader Bob Kinnear has said wages are the sticking point and he has called on York Region legislators to step in and help settle the issue.
“Our members here are making seven dollars an hour less than transit workers doing essentially the same jobs in surrounding communities. This is a massive wage gap,” said Mr. Kinnear.
“These companies are shipping millions in taxpayer-funded profits out of the country. It makes no economic sense for the residents of York Region, but that’s privatization for you.”
York Region transit fares are the most expensive in the Greater Toronto Area, and are scheduled to increase to $3.50 per ride in the new year. The strike will affect city bus routes served by the Miller Transit, First Student and Viva companies.
Hundreds of transit workers voted down contract offers last week and negotiators made little headway in talks over the weekend. The unions are calling on municipal politicians in York Region to intervene.
“We regret the inconvenience this causes for York Region transit users and we urge them to contact their councillors and mayors,” said Ray Doyle, head of Amalgamated Transit Union 1587, in a statement. “The politicians are the ones who are ultimately responsible for this mess and they are the ones who must fix it.”
He said that the disparity between wages for bus drivers in York Region and the rest of the Greater Toronto Area are untenable.
“Our most experienced workers are lined up to get the next open jobs at nearby transit agencies,” he said. “This is good for the companies because they pay new hires less. But it is not good for the passengers, who benefit from having experienced workers operate and maintain the vehicles.”
With a report from Elizabeth Church