Update: Hamilton transit union, City reach tentative deal, ending seven-day HSR strike


Published November 16, 2023 at 7:46 am

Hamilton transit strike union ATU local 107 HSR buses Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107

The City of Hamilton and the transit union have reached a tentative agreement overnight, ending the seven-day strike that had cast a pall over Grey Cup festivities and stranded thousands of passengers since Nov. 9 when all bus services were suspended. 

Eric Tuck, head of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107 representing 880 Hamilton Street Railway workers, told inthehammer.com that the maintenance team is returning to work early this morning to check the fleet. The Hamilton Street Railway confirmed that full bus service will resume on Friday morning. 

“We’re not providing any details on the actual offer until we had the chance to present it to members for a ratification vote,” Tuck said in a phone interview with inthehammer.com this morning. He said the vote will take place within a week to 10 days. 

The City reached out to the union three times to return to the bargaining table since the strike, but the union refused its invitations. However, Tuck said the union decided to call an emergency meeting with negotiators and sit down with the employer again late Wednesday. 

“There was considerable compromise on both sides of the table in efforts to reach an agreement,” Tuck told inthehammer.com. “That’s the way you get deals done. Nobody really comes out with everything you wanted. At the end of the day, we wanted to get a deal done for passengers.”

Antonella Giancarlo, senior communications officer with the City of Hamilton, told inthehammer.com that the City can’t provide any specific details on the deal because it wasn’t ratified yet by union members or council.

Mayor Andrea Horwath thanked City council, the bargaining team and ATU Local 107 leaders for committing to “achieving a fair and speedy resolution to this important process.”

“I’m thrilled to announce that the City of Hamilton has reached a tentative agreement with ATU Local 107 that they will be recommending to their members,” said Horwath in a statement issued after 2 a.m. today (Nov. 16). “Strikes are difficult, and I thank the public for their patience and understanding while HSR was out of service. I know this disruption had very real impacts on people’s lives, and I look forward to the full restoration of service as soon as possible.”

Wages were the main sticking point to reaching a new collective bargaining agreement, though the union said difficult working conditions were also a problem. All bus operations were suspended during the strike, but accessible transportation services offered by the contractor DARTS weren’t affected.

Lora Fontana, Hamilton’s executive director of human resources, told reporters earlier this week that ATU Local 107 had reiterated its stance that it wasn’t interested in meeting with its employer, Hamilton Street Railway, unless it improved its final offer on wages.

Union was angered over management’s wage hikes, including HR boss’s nearly $19,000 raise over four years

Tommy Wu, assistant professor of labour studies at McMaster University, said he wasn’t surprised that this strike was much shorter than the last one in 1998, which lasted three months.

“Many factors contributed to a quick settlement: Mayor Andrea Horwath needs to uphold her reputation as someone who is pro-labour,” Wu said in an email to inthehammer.com. “Not having public transit during the upcoming Grey Cup would look very bad on the City, not to mention the financial impacts; and public sentiment seems to be on labour’s side.”

During the strike, union boss Tuck said their fight for a new collective bargaining contract is about getting a living wage that keeps pace with inflation and improving working conditions, which had been a problem for a long time.

Tuck pointed out that 1,100 non-union staff, such as managers and project managers, earn $120,000 to $160,000 a year and earlier this year received a four-per-cent base wage hike along with a market adjustment of up to an extra 11 per cent.

“If this City has money for them, goddammit they better have money for the frontline workers,” Tuck told a crowd of striking workers and media on Nov. 9, his voice booming. “We’re not about to become the working poor. We all have to rise together. If we’re not all in partnership, we’re getting left behind.”

The City defended the raises, saying non-unionized workers are now paid at the 50th percentile, the middle of the salary range of comparable cities, pulling them up from the bottom half. As part of its retention strategy, the City said the recent wage increase for non-unionized employees reduced turnover rates to 5.23 per cent compared with 9.9 per cent last year.

Tuck also mentioned the salary increase for Fontana, Hamilton’s executive director of human resources. Fontana saw her salary rise by nearly $19,000 over the last four years, according to the Ontario Sunshine List. She made $212,016.91 in 2022.

“So who’s the greedy ones? We’re not the greedy ones,” he said.

When asked by inthehammer.com about the union’s anger over her nearly $19,000 raise over four years and what justifies it, Fontana declined to provide specific details.

“I honestly don’t feel comfortable talking about my salary. What I can tell you is that the percentage increase was quite frankly in line with the percentage increases that we’re suggesting and offering to the ATU and other unions across the organization,” she told inthehammer.com during a virtual press conference on Nov. 13. “There’s a non-union salary compensation schedule that my position falls within and it’s based on an evaluation process. I’m not going to say much more than that. In terms of increases, it’s all relative. And it’s consistent with other increases across the organization including the increases provided to the unionized staff.”

While not saying this is the case with Fontana and City of Hamilton employees, Wu of McMaster University observed that “there’s a clear trend in which governments at all levels are run like businesses with bloated budgets for managers/administrators.”

“Ultimately, when the City says there’s no money for raises, it’s a bit disingenuous because the City can always reallocate budget items according to its priorities and/or through taxes,” he said in an email to inthehammer.com. “And in this strike, workers and the public are just exercising their political will to show the City what should be the priorities. ”

In defence of Fontana, Horwath had pointed out that her raise was about nine per cent. She said that’s less than the 12.75-per-cent wage increase over four years the City offered to transit workers and far less than the 23-per-cent increase over four years that Tuck requested for his members.

“It is unfortunate that the union president is directing public anger at an individual female employee of the City of Hamilton,” Horwath said in a statement on Nov. 10. “As leaders, we should be able to discuss these important issues without stoking anger, hatred or resentment. All of the city’s wages are governed by policies and collective agreements, and individual employees should not be singled out for attacks as we treat all our employees fairly and with respect.”

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