An even playing field

Tara Bradbury
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St. John’s councillors vote to pay for half their insurance premiums; asking Metrobus workers to do the same

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe — File Photo

Asking new Metrobus employees to share the cost of their group insurance plan 50-50 isn’t unreasonable, says St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe — especially now that city councillors are doing the same thing.

About 100 Metrobus workers, including bus drivers and mechanics, have been on strike since Nov. 4, with the main issue being a benefits package that would see new employees paying half their group insurance premiums. The workers currently pay about 12 per cent of their premiums.

A 50-50 cost sharing arrangement is what all other employees of the city pay, apart from councillors, who pay four per cent of their premiums. This is about to change, however, after a recent unanimous vote.

“It came up at one of our private meetings a month ago that we should be on the same playing field as the other groups when it comes to health benefit,” O’Keefe told The Telegram. “Unanimously, council agreed to do it on a 50-50 cost-sharing basis, and to do it as part of our budget process.”

The budget is still being finalized, O’Keefe said. But the decision has been made and council will stick with it.

Metrobus workers are now the only ones employed by the city who don’t pay 50 per cent of their premiums.

“They are the only group that is not included at this point in time, and that’s their sticking issue,” O’Keefe said.

Metrobus wants to increase the workers’ share of the premiums, but for newly hired employees only — current employees wouldn’t see any change to their costs.

“I think that’s the fair way to do it, so you’re not taking away anything from any current employees,” O’Keefe said. “I can’t get involved in the negotiations and I’m not, but that’s my opinion on the 50-50 (arrangement) generally.”

Metrobus general manager Judy Powell said the cost of the group benefit plan has been a concern for the public transportation commission over the past few years, and the proposed 50-50 arrangement is a measure to control this cost.

It’s actually a more lenient deal than Metrobus had originally asked for in negotiations with the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents the employees, Powell said, particularly when combined with the wage increase the commission is offering.

“When we initially went into these negotiations, our initial proposal was for all employees to move to 50-50, but as we went through, we thought it would achieve a deal for us if we said we’ll protect the employees who are already here,” she explained.

“We thought that was more than a reasonable offer in light of the fact that we put a 15.5 per cent wage increase on the table. That wage increase recognizes what we’re asking.”

A call from The Telegram to the Amalgamated Transit Union wasn’t returned as of press time Friday.

Organizations: The Telegram, Amalgamated Transit Union

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Recent comments

  • Anonymous
    December 12, 2010 - 18:33

    If the drivers don't hurry up and get back to work, they're not going to have to worry any more about this dreaded two-tier system because NOBODY will be getting any pay or any benefits when MetroBus ultimately goes under as a result of this strike and they all lose their jobs! If they keep this up, they'll only ruin it for themselves. And for anyone who thinks they're all such heroes for striking to protect future employees (people who aren't even in the job yet) and holding thousands of innocent people hostage until their demands are met, just ask yourself this: why don't they let future potential employees decide for THEMSELVES whether or not they'll accept the 50/50 healthcare plan? If anyone thinks that the pay and benefits are not good enough, they don't have to apply for the bloody job and the job will go to someone else who DOES want it. It's as simple as that. Let future potential workers make their own decisions about this issue when it actually applies to them. In the meantime, it's absolutely ridiculous to make thousands of people in the here and now suffer in an attempt to protect employees who don't even exist yet! I truly pity all the drivers that actually voted AGAINST this strike and are having to pay for their co-workers' stupidity, but to the rest I say stop being so greedy--you already have better wages than many people who work just as hard (if not harder) than you do and better benefits than any other public employee in the city! What in the world makes you feel so entitled to not only have your cake but eat it too?! Mark my words, you will NOT win this, and quite frankly, you don't DESERVE to either! I say good on the management for not giving in! THEY have my support, NOT the DRIVERS. Despite the little stunt that MUNSU pulled going on the picket line in support of the drivers (which they did on their own initiative without asking the opinion or permission of the student body they're SUPPOSED to represent), the drivers do NOT have the support of the public, and especially not the support of us students who used to rely on the buses to get to school. I just wanted to let it be known that MUNSU did NOT represent the sentiments of the students in what they did--if you ask students about the bus strike, many of them will tell you how angry we are about the drivers' selfish decision to do this and especially how angry we are that OUR union decided to support the drivers without checking with us first. If they PERSONALLY wanted to support the drivers, that would have been fine, but they had no business to act under the name of the student union when they didn't even bother to ask the other members of the student body how we feel about the issue before claiming that "we" supposedly support the drivers. Many of us DON'T. Why SHOULD we support anyone whose selfish decisions are causing US to suffer?! These drivers are holding an awful lot of people hostage until they get what they want, and I can't respect that, much less support it!

  • Political Watcher
    December 06, 2010 - 06:31

    I only hope that this gesture is not as shady as the one Senior Mangement in Mount Pearl pulled a while back; just before approaching staff and asking for a 4% wage rollback that "all" were supposed to receive, the senior managers met and awarded themselves a 4% increase in lieu of overtime. Ant to think that the leader in all this still walks around trying to figure out his Blackberry.

  • Robert
    December 06, 2010 - 06:18

    .."Now that councillors are paying 50% of their premiums"....It took something like this strike to shame these paracite councillors who have been milking this cow for decades. In the meantime there's not a whole lot of skill to driving a bus and the union should either get on the ball or get on one of their busses.

  • Vroom Vroom
    December 06, 2010 - 05:49

    I am a taxi driver. I do basically the same work as a bus driver, just more dangerous becase I have no security in numbers of people on the bus and people do not get the bus drunk. But, I get less pay and benefits than the bus drivers. I just get paid on commission, no hourly wage, no job security, no union, no paid time off, no overtime pay. So, the bus drivers should be happy for what they are getting as I would be in heaven if I got that much. But, in the mean time, bus drivers, please stay on strike as long as you can. As your fight for health and dental benefit allows me to now pay 100% of my huge dental costs this week which I have been putting off for years for the lack of money.

  • Walker
    December 05, 2010 - 21:13

    Time for the greedy bus drivers to get back on the road. They have taken to driving cabs because they can't make it on the strike pay.Well to bad the rest of us are paying alot of money to get back and forth to work. I see no sense in this strike at all if you don't want to pay the 50/50 don't take the job, someone else will. I say fire the lot of them and make the bus service an essential service which it is.

  • mary
    December 05, 2010 - 13:54

    I agree with Mundypond, these workers are looking at the big picture, they aren't doing this simply for themselves. I still support the strikers and I rely on the bus system.

  • This is going to be a long strike
    December 05, 2010 - 11:42

    Someone in the leadership of this Union sure as hell gave their members some bad advice. This is going to be a long strike and right now the public could not care less how long they stay out. I think the union brass figured this was going to be a short strike like the last one but they overestimated their value to the public. The public as no stomach for this when workers are offered a 15 1/2 % raise and a 50/50 cost share of insurance at a time when ridership is at an all time low and the city if fighting a 5 million dollar deficit. The union leaders here made a huge error in judgement and this is the problem with todays unions. Their leaders are just ordinary people with no experience in negotiating large complicated contracts. The first thing they think of is strike when they don't get what they want. A strike is a absolute last resort and only used when you are losing big and being mistreated. This is not the case here and these workers will never gain back what they lost in wages. All to save something for workers who are not yet even hired and it's not even going to effect current workers. A pretty stupid cause and decision on someones part. A similiar situation is playing out at Purity where workers were locked out after threatening strike action and will probably lose their jobs due to the company closing up shop. Another case of some poor advice in a time when unions are seen to be to greedy sometimes.

    • Lots wrong here
      December 07, 2010 - 08:24

      Many people are very hard hit and others aren't affected at all. But the city has many problems: There are so many restrictions on what home owners can do downtown and if you're building there's the legendary height restriction which the city will bend over for if you represent a business. St. John's also has the most hideous city hall of any large city in the country, I kid you not. A large block of cement. Look at the city halls of Halifax, Toronto or Vancouver. "Oh but those are very large cities"... Look at Charlottetown's as well. The city has too many old councilors, in that they've been at it in this city for too long. I Wonder if the mayor has ever seen a modern city, he might learn something about maintaining a style. As a student who walks everywhere I wish this strike had come when there was snow so that more pedestrians would have been around to highlight the city's terrible pedestrian infrastructure. Where I live (near the university) at least five people have been hit at a CROSSWALK! I think perhaps lights should be placed there but the city is so strange in what it deems important. All in all, with respect to the strike here's what I believe: - The city will not offer any 'better' deal, it can't afford it and as the mayor said, "The decision has been made" wrt the 50/50 proposal. - The strike will end soon. Strike pay will drive the employees back to work, it is Christmas. - The city (city hall) will allow the strike to go on as long as the employees want it to. Every day the buses don't run is money saved by the city. I doubt the citizens will be credited for the down time.

  • ML in NL
    December 05, 2010 - 11:41

    All Metrobus riders should remember this time, the inconvienence it is causing, the greed of the operators and boycott the sub-par transit system when it does eventually come back.

  • Barry
    December 05, 2010 - 11:05

    Hey Metrobus Employees!!! The games over, now accept the more than generous offer your employer has offered you and get back to work. Really, and while you're at it, you folks should get serious about holding a vote to de-certify the union that supposed to be representing your best interests......NOT!!!, this will put "net" money back into your pockets. Wake up and smell the "real world"

  • Sonia
    December 05, 2010 - 10:43

    I think all the workers should pay 50% of their group insurance plan - why just newly hired employees - that' ridiculous! I pay 50% of my group insurance plan as well as all other employees. Taxes will probably be raised because of these greedy people. My advice to council is fire the lot and hire new workers. If this is not an option then cut back bus service and lay off drivers. The buses are going around town with 2 and 3 people - a waste of the tax-payers money!

  • mark
    December 05, 2010 - 10:10

    i think its high time that the employees of metro bus get on with it and accept the deal. there are to many people in this city that depend on metro bus to get around and to get to THEIR place of work however now they have to depend on other people/taxi's/walk or in some cases be forced to quit their jobs or school. its sad to see that these employees of metro bus are so greedy not to take the deal, while the rest of the employees of the city have to pay 50% if their insurance premiums and now even the St. John’s councillors voted to pay for half their insurance premiums as well. shame on you people. i think you should all have to pay 50%. greed and that is all it boils down to. get on with it and serve the public like you were hired to do. you should be lucky to have a job in the first place.

  • Holden Hiscock
    December 05, 2010 - 08:55

    Pay your share like the rest of us do! Your greed makes me so angry that I want to scream at you when I drive by Metrobus!

  • Bob
    December 05, 2010 - 00:25

    Councillors pay only 4% ??? How long has this been going on?? Are there any other benefits taxpayers should know about ??

  • Former Metrobus Rider
    December 04, 2010 - 13:17

    The strike has been ongoing for a month now. I say enough is enough. The sad thing is we innocent people are unjustly losing our buses because the workers want their demands met. I have a feeling 2011 is looking to be a bad year in terms of ridership for Metrobus. People are probably throwing in the towel by now, and are planning to stick to car travel even after the strike ends. In fact, I was in my friends car, and my friend drove past the Metrobus picket line this morning. She did not toot the horn to the drivers. I certainly wouldn't as of right now. In fact, I have already dropped Metrobus as an option for travel from now on. If I can't use a car, either $20 cab fare (each way) or my own two feet will be my last resort. I can smell bankruptcy for Metrobus sometime in 2011.

    • mundypond
      December 04, 2010 - 18:30

      greedy? seems to me the employees are sticking on an issue that will affect new hires. that is admirable not greedy. anyone remember when dominion was a good place to work...well that was until the unionized employees accepted an agreement that assured their wages/benefits but removed the possibility for new hires to receive the same pay scale/ benefits as existing employees. that me me me mentality is so much better than the current stance of metrobus workers right?

  • nasty nate
    December 04, 2010 - 08:14

    Now what will the union slackers say? That City Council makes more than they do? Well you put them into the position, deal with it or move to Quebec.

  • Get back on the road
    December 04, 2010 - 07:45

    This strike is so stupid they are on strike for something that their not going to win. Meanwhile people are suffering paying most of their paycheque for cabs to get back and forth to work or even worst loosing their jobs.Someone commented that these are the people who are kind and drive your loved ones aroung obviously this person hasnt taken the bus because you have to get on find a seat close as fast as you can before the driver rips away and you go flying. I was on one day when the brakes were slammed so hard a senior came flying out of one of the front seats he landed on his knees. This is not the loving drivers you think some are really nice and good but the majority of the drivers don't care and they are ripping around the city streets. Passengers have to hold on for dear life. Time to get back to work and have some manners I say.

    • maryjane
      December 04, 2010 - 21:25

      I think all of them should be fired and hire all new ones! look at all the people who are losing there jobs because of these Metro bus employees. I am sure the ones who lost their jobs would love to have the metro bus drivers job!!! And as for flying on the bus...My daugher and me were not even seated when we got on and we went flying...not good, could of gotten hurt badly..............I do know they should make a law to wait for everyone to be seated before moving the bus.....and need to make out a new bus time as well...considering buses were always late!!!

  • MJ
    December 04, 2010 - 07:02

    I agree with the Mayor this time. Cost of living is going up for everyone right now and the ' yet to be hired ' metrobus employees should not be immune! And when they go back to work they should be legislated as essential so they should not be able to put their greed in front of their very vulnerable clients again!