Update: Hamilton transit workers vote in favour of strike mandate, talks stall over wages

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Published August 25, 2023 at 1:07 pm

Demanding higher wages in line with inflation, more than 99 per cent of Hamilton Street Railway workers who turned out to vote yesterday have backed a strike mandate.

Eric Tuck, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107 representing over 850 transit workers in Hamilton, said a record 70 per cent of members turned out for the vote.

“I’m hopeful that this strike mandate will encourage the city to come back to the bargaining table … and to be serious about giving us a fair deal that we can actually accept,” Tuck said in a phone interview with inthehammer.com today (Aug. 25). “We never want to take away services. We know how important it is to have the transit system up and running.”

Yakov Sluchenkov, Hamilton’s director of employee health and labour relations, said the City respects the ATU’s vote on the strike mandate.

“The City remains committed to continuing to meet with the ATU Local 107 negotiation committee, with a view of negotiating a renewed collective agreement that is fair for workers and fair for taxpayers,” Sluchenkov said in a statement to inthehammer.com today. “We are aware of ATUs strike vote, which is not an uncommon part of the bargaining process. … We look forward to working with the conciliator to make further progress in negotiations. As the negotiations are active and ongoing, the City is unable to provide further comment at this time.”

The next step is for the Ministry of Labour to appoint a conciliator who will set the date for the City and the HSR union to restart talks.

“if talks progress, hopefully we can get a collective agreement,” Tuck said in a phone interview with inthehammer.com today (Aug. 25).

If talks stall again, he said the union will file a “no board” report with the ministry and start a 17-day countdown to a possible strike or lockout. “After 17 days, either party could take action. The union could go on strike or the employer could lock us out.”

He said the union last met with the employer on Aug. 17 before talks stalled.

“The main obstacle is wages,” Tuck said, noting that the City has raised wages for 1,100 non-union staff by four per cent (1.5 per cent in January and 2.5 per cent in June), with a market adjustment from one to 11 per cent.

Tuck said the average transit worker earns between $60,000 and $80,000, including overtime, working 50 to 60 hours a week on average.

“The senior bureaucrats earning between $120,000 and $160,000 have received double-digit increases while the employer is offering us a substantially less amount,” he said, noting he can’t share a specific figure but it’s less than the four-per-cent wage hikes given to the non-union bureaucrats. “We were here every day on the front lines and we’re insulted by what they’re offering us.”

Tuck noted that transit superintendents earning from $120,000 to $130,000 got a 10-per-cent wage increase.

He said many of the senior bureaucrats are working from home three days a week, which is “another sore point” for the union.

“We have to come to work every day,” he said. “We worked right throughout the pandemic … We should get a fair raise like they did. If they are getting market adjustments that size, then why don’t we? It’s not fair.”

He said many members have had to move away from the city because it’s too expensive to live in Hamilton. “We have to ensure a fair collective agreement that keeps pace with inflation.”

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