Commuters in communities north of Toronto could face chaos Monday morning, as York Region bus drivers were poised to go on strike overnight.
Public transit on 80 routes in Markham, Vaughan, Richmond Hill and northern York Region will shut down at 4 a.m. Monday if last-minute deals can't be reached between two union locals and management. The work stoppage would include routes from outside the city of Toronto to York University, posing a potential headache for thousands of students.
"It'll be an inconvenience most certainly," said York Region Transit rider Anna Ainsworth on Sunday evening. "I rely on the transit system completely. But if that's what it takes for them to get a better wage, that's what matters. I'd prefer workers get a fair wage, and then we can all ride safely to work."
GO Transit's bus service was also headed for a halt, but employees and management struck a tentative agreement late Sunday night, averting a strike.
The main issues for York Region Transit workers are wages and benefits. The YRT system contracts out its operations to private companies that pay $7 an hour less than drivers get in neighbouring communities, according to the Amalgamated Transit Union.
"This is a massive wage gap that the company refuses to even recognize, let alone begin to address," said Bob Kinnear, president of ATU Local 113, which represents 220 drivers and maintenance staff who operate York Region's Viva bus service.
Ray Doyle, the president of ATU Local 1587, which represents 340 drivers and maintenance personnel at two other companies contracted by York Region, said YRT passengers pay the highest fares in the Toronto area. Meanwhile, he said, the system's workers overall make 40 per cent less and the private companies get the highest subsidies in the GTA.
"These private companies are raking in profits by the millions from taxpayers and passengers ," Doyle said. "Our most experienced workers are lined up to get the next open jobs at nearby transit agencies.… It is not good for the passengers, who benefit from having experienced workers operate and maintain the vehicles."
About 1,530 workers at Metrolinx, the Greater Toronto Area regional transit agency, were also in a strike position, though Metrolinx's offer late Sunday night was accepted by union negotiators and now will have to be ratified by members. Those workers include 650 GO Transit bus drivers, as well as station attendants, service personnel, safety officers and clerical staff.
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