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Transit strike looms, city prepares

Transit employees in the city voted 73 per cent against the city’s final offer in contract negotiations.

Bus drivers in Fredericton are paid 2.44 dollars less than their peers in Moncton, and 4 dollar per hour less than drivers in Saint John.

Ralph McBride, the national representative for the Canadian Union of Public Employees representing transit workers, said they are fighting for health benefits as well.

He said drivers have what they call a benefit spending account. This means full time drivers can choose the health care packages they want to buy. McBride says that the relay staff is looking for that too.

“We are trying to increase wages for the operators so they are not paying out of their pockets for their benefits,” he said.

Zach Atkinson, the booking agent at the Capital Complex, said that transportation is directly affecting his business and that it is a bigger issue than life downtown.

“It will be a huge delay on life,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson said that not everyone can afford for a cab income for everyday transportation. People then will prefer not to come out because it will change how they deal with their day.

“It is about getting home safe, and now they can’t.”

Even with the limited time hours of the bus service, cabs sometimes deny their services based on the number of people they can take in and the location they need to go.

“The weather is not always safe now, we hope there are enough cabs to take people,” said Atkinson.

Students who rely on the bus service to go to school will have to find different alternatives to get there in case of a strike during the semester.

The UNBSU SafeRide service was already bringing on additional drivers before the strike vote was taken.

In addition, there are around 90 cabs for the almost 60,000 citizens in the city and cab companies can’t make drivers work more than the 12 hour shift they have.

Andrew Vissers, a third year student in computer science is one student who would be affected by a bus strike.

“I’d have to walk in the cold and get up much earlier than I do, and add 20 minutes to my commute,” he said.

Moncton experienced a bus strike in April 1, 2012. Codiac Transit locked out its drivers for 5 months before an agreement was reached.

Codiac transit agreed to a four-year plan set to increase wages 6.25 per cent and provide health and dental care.

Therebis no indication of the date when the strike might take place. The Bus Union is bound by law to give a 24 hour notice before it takes place. Moreover, the Bus Union is not worried about a lockout. McBride says that the employers had the ability to have a lock out since Dec. 20.

“They have not done that yet so I am not concerned about that at this point,” he said.

If there is an action taken by either part of the conflict, citizens in Fredericton would expect a total shut down of the transit system in the city.

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