NEWS

Tentative Halifax transit deal reached in 40-day strike

03/12/2012 09:16 EDT | Updated 05/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Striking Metro Transit workers are relieved to hear a tentative deal has been reached with the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Adam Francis, a strike captain with Local 508 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, told CBC News he was excited at the prospect of getting back to work.

"I'm ecstatic. I can't wait to get behind the wheel of my bus and get back to work and make up for lost time and get back to my regular passengers," Francis said Monday.

"Our executive has unanimously decided that they're going to support this, so there's got to be something there for us."

The striking bus and ferry operators, who have not yet heard any details of the tentative pact, will vote on it Tuesday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Halifax regional council is scheduled to meet behind closed doors Tuesday at 6 p.m. to discuss the contract.

The deal was reached Sunday night between Metro Transit and the ATU, which represents more than 700 bus and ferry operators with Local 508.

Mayor Peter Kelly said that if everything goes according to plan, buses could be back on the streets by Friday.

"Hopefully things go well. The buses are back on the road by Friday and depending upon how the ferry operation is going, maybe by Thursday if we're lucky, but if not, by Friday," he told reporters on Sunday.

"Full service should be back in operation by next week."

Though the buses have been idle for more than a month, they were turned on during the cold weather in February to keep the engines in tune.

Inspectors from the Utility and Review Board have also made regular visits.

Steve Grose, one of hundreds of Metro Transit employees who walked off the job Feb. 2, said he was glad the strike could be nearing its end.

"It's felt like a very long 40 days. The 40 days and the 40 nights, it was a long time," he said.

There had been little progress since talks broke off at the beginning of February.

Transit fares will likely increase, says mayor

Scheduling was the contentious issue, in particular, how workers' schedules would be put together and the associated costs. The Halifax Regional Municipality maintained the current scheduling system was too expensive, while the union said changing the system was a deal-breaker.

It's not yet known whether or how the scheduling issue was resolved.

"We'll leave the details for both sides to review on Tuesday and we'll make the commentary after those votes are complete," Kelly said Sunday.

He also said fares would likely rise once public transit was up and running.

Talks between the two sides resumed Friday for the first time since Feb. 8, with an offer from the ATU.

Just after 4 p.m. on Saturday, the union extended an offer. There was no word on what it contained, but it was discussed for several hours by management.

Local 508 president Ken Wilson said then he was "cautiously optimistic," and there had been movement on several issues.

Neither the union nor the mayor would talk about what they agreed to or more specifically, who'll control shift-scheduling.

But the mayor hinted that he got what he wanted.

"All I can say is that the parameters that were discussed are in that ball park for discussion."

Gladys Nicholson, one of approximately 55,000 commuters who had been left without bus or ferry service, said she was glad for the strike to be over, but wouldn't resume taking the bus.

"I'm going to keep walking. I'm into it, so it'll be nice to have an option to hop on the bus when I want to, but I'm going to keep walking," she said.

Metro Transit officials say they'll begin a publicity campaign in the coming days to lure riders back.

Part of that campaign will also include a reminder to users to please respect bus drivers — they anticipate some bad blood between the drivers and bus riders.

Metro Transit spokesperson Lori Patterson asked that everyone remember that it was a legal strike and the drivers had every right to walk.

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