10/17/2014 01:51 EDT | Updated 12/17/2014 05:59 EST

Labour board orders city of Saskatoon to lift lockout of transit workers

SASKATOON - Transit bus drivers cheered and hugged each other Friday after the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board ordered the City of Saskatoon to lift its lockout and compensate union members for monetary losses.

Jim Yakubowski, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 615, called the decision a win for labour, adding the locked-out workers are ready and eager to get their buses back on the road.

However, before that happens the two sides will have to meet and decide how much money the city owes union workers. If an agreement cannot be reached, the labour board will hear evidence from both sides and decide on a sum of money.

Patricia Warwick, the city's lawyer, said her client is surprised and disappointed with the ruling.

"This decision flies in the face of 70 years of law in Saskatchewan," Warwick said in a news release Friday. "Unfortunately today's ruling is also another distraction. It gets us no closer to solving any of the contract issues and, in fact, the ruling has serious long-term implications."

The board ruled the city was not in a legal position to lock out the transit drivers on Sept. 20.

The union had argued before the board that an outstanding unfair labour practice filed by the union last June meant the city could not change terms of employment.

The city said the lockout was legal because the workplace complaint had not been heard at a formal meeting of the labour board at the time the lockout was called.

The complaint was resolved on Oct. 3, almost two weeks after the lockout began. That one was also a win for the union, as the labour board ordered the city to issue an official letter of apology to a senior transit driver after he was wrongfully suspended for not wearing his seatbelt and not securing his bus when he got up to deal with an unruly passenger in December.

In Friday's ruling, the board said the city illegally made changes to the conditions of employment, benefits and privileges of the union members, and said the city cannot declare another lockout without giving the union at least 48 hours’ notice.

"We're just waiting to get back into the door and continue to provide service to the citizens of Saskatoon and continue to bargain fairly to bring a fair and equitable settlement for our members," Yakubowski said in front of city hall.

Since the ruling came down Friday morning, Yakubowski told radio station CKOM that he has put in a call to the city asking them to open up the doors.

"I told them we're ready to come back to work; they suggested they'll get back to me to see when we can discuss when we can do that."

(CKOM, The Canadian Press)