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York Region Transit strike set for Monday

Commuters in York Region are facing one strike and possibly a second one on Monday. On top of that, GO bus drivers are also set to walk off the job the same day.

Bus drivers for Miller Transit and First Student Canada voted Thursday to reject a final contract offer. They’re set to walk off the job early Monday morning leaving thousands of commuters in the lurch.

The union locals representing GO and VIVA bus drivers have set strike deadlines for midnight Sunday.

Miller Transit is the private company that provides service on 51 York Region Transit (YRT) routes in Markham, Richmond Hill and Whitchurch-Stouffville, as well as some routes in Vaughan. First Student operates 29 YRT routes in the northern part of the region, including Newmarket, Aurora, Richmond Hill, East Gwillimbury and Georgina. School bus services won’t be affected.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1587 represents the Miller and First Student drivers.

“If you look at the overall scale, bus drivers all over York Region are driving a bus for up to 40 per cent less than all other transit systems in the GTA,” said Ray Doyle, ATU Local 1587 president.

Shift lengths are also an issue. The union said members are expected to work 16-hour split shifts.

Doyle said a lot of the blame for the failed negotiations lies with YRT.

“The real employer here is York Region and let there be no mistake about that,” he said. “York Region is the one that wants to dictate the rules of how a person gets hired, how they get fired, how they get disciplined, but they don’t want to call themselves the employer. They leave the independent contractors to negotiate their contracts but they don’t give them any leeway.”

YRT urged riders to make alternate travel arrangements, if a strike occurs, and said staff would be available at terminals Monday morning to help commuters. Click here for more information.

ATU Local 1587 also represents 1,500 GO workers, including bus drivers, technicians, station attendants and office and service staff, who are also poised to strike on Monday. The union remains at the bargaining table with Metrolinx, the provincial agency that runs GO Transit, trying to hammer out a deal before the deadline.

The ATU Local 1587 claims GO will only offer its workers a wage increase if it comes out of existing benefit costs. Otherwise, GO has offered no wage increase over the next two years.

On a typical weekday, GO buses alone transport 37,000 riders. GO trains wouldn’t be affected by a job action.

The ATU Local 113 represents VIVA drivers who are also set to walk off the job Monday. The union said the company that runs the Veolia Transportation buses on five YRT routes is demanding major concessions in benefits packages.

“It is an unreasonable demand that will adversely affect the health of many of our members and their families,” ATU Local 113 president Bob Kinnear said in a statement. “We simply cannot agree to this. As a union, our first duty to our members is to protect their health.”

The last Veolia strike was in 2008. The job action lasted about two weeks.

With files from Erin Criger