By Samantha Beattie
March 13, 2017
Downtown Kitchener to Fairview Mall to Conestoga College Cambridge. It’s the bus route Alim Nathoo takes to work everyday, and the bus route he takes home. So when he heard Grand River Transit could go on strike March 20, he felt he had to do something.
“I depend on taking the bus for my job,” said Nathoo who works at Conestoga College’s Cambridge campus as a computerized note taker. “I also really love riding transit. I meet new people everyday, it’s good for the environment and I enjoy the company of the men and women in blue, the drivers.”
Nathoo started an online petition requesting Grand River Transit and Unifor Local 4304 do everything in their power to negotiate a collective agreement.
So far, only 26 people have signed, but it’s a start, said Nathoo.
“Other riders are in the same boat as me,” he said, adding if drivers do go on strike and there is no bus service, he’ll try to carpool, but will otherwise be stuck paying more expensive taxi fares.
People have commented on his petition, mirroring his concerns.
“I’m signing (this petition) because my livelihood depends on being able to … get to and from work,” wrote one supporter.
The union, representing 644 drivers, service attendants and skills trades workers, voted on Feb. 26 to go on strike if no collective agreement was reached by midnight March 20, the day after the next set of negotiations will be held.
The union and region have been negotiating a collective agreement since December.
Region CAO Mike Murray said he’s confident there’s still time to find a resolution.
“What we’re seeing in this round is very similar to previous rounds in terms of duration,” he said. “The pattern has been to negotiate down to the wire and this round of negotiations is no different.”
If they don’t, and GRT workers go on strike, transit service will stop.
The sticking points are monetary and nonmonetary, but neither Murray, nor local union president Rick Lonergan could talk specifics.
“We do have some serious contentious issues that need to be addressed,” said Lonergan, who has been part of about five rounds of negotiations and has worked as a bus driver for almost 30 years.
“We are very committed to getting a settlement and are working hard to get this done. That’s our mandate.”
Nathoo spends about two hours on the bus a day, watching the goings on. He’s heard riders swear at drivers, but he’s also seen drivers be rude to riders who get to the bus stop a few seconds late, or are slow to pay their fares.
“Some communication skills could be improved with the public and drivers,” Nathoo said.