A Go Bus heads west onto Topsail Road from Brookfield Road Wednesday morning.
— Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
By Bonnie Belec
The wheels on the GoBus are continuing to go around and around as the union and company work on scheduling to set up meetings in order to roll out the employees’ first contract.
Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 5120 voted to withdraw their services in the event they can't reach a negotiated agreement, CUPE national representative Ed White said Wednesday.
“We don’t want to deprive users of this critically important service, but this first contract is crucial for the future of our members,” he said.
The next step, White said, is to meet with the employer again to try to work out a deal.
GoBus is operated by MVT Canadian Bus Inc., has 42 employees — about 30 of which are unionized — and 18 buses. It is subsidized by the cities of St. John’s and Mount Pearl and by the provincial government.
Last year, St. John’s paid $1,672,900 for the service, while Mount Pearl paid $257,800 and the province paid $223,500.
According to the City of St. John’s website, paratransit is the transportation alternative for people who are unable to use Metrobus.
In 2012, the city contracted the service to MVT Canadian Bus Lines — it had previously been run by Wheelway — which has upgraded the service with a fleet of 18 new buses.
City representatives St. John’s Coun. Tom Hann, who sits on the paratransit committee, and Mount Pearl Mayor Randy Simms, who sits on the funders’ committee, said it isn’t the time for them to get involved, but they’re keeping an eye on the situation on behalf of their residents.
“We have a concern for the riders, but the service is still running and we hope they will reach an agreement and the company has a proper contingency plan in place,” Hann said.
MVT’s communications director, Jennifer Wiley, told The Telegram Wednesday afternoon the company and the union are working together to ensure the service continues while negotiations are ongoing.
“MVT Canadian Bus is currently in discussions with CUPE Local 5120 with their representatives and in the process of scheduling additional dates to bargain with the union in good faith in an effort to avoid any disruption to the GoBus service in the future,” Wiley said from the company’s head office in Dallas, Texas.
“MVT is optimistic we’re going to reach an agreement with 5120. However, contingency planning is underway. You always have to be prepared,” she said.
Wiley said that was all the company was prepared to say at this stage and there would be no comment on the union’s contentions.
In a news release, White said there are several outstanding issues in the dispute, including wages. He said the employer is offering a wage freeze in Year 1 and a “mere” 25 cents an hour increase in years two, three and four of a four-year contract.
He said the company is also proposing new hires would be paid
$1 an hour less than current employees and would never catch up.
The company is also seeking an agreement that would go beyond the expiry date of its contract with the city.
White says the union is proposing a two-year agreement and would like to negotiate the next contract prior to the company entering into a new contract with the city.