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Winnipeg bus riders left out in the cold by Transit job action

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Winnipeg Transit may experience some service disruptions beginning on Monday.

Alanna miller says she was waiting in the cold Monday morning for a bus that didn’t come.

"Today was a bit brutal,” Miller said. “(I) didn't realize most of the buses were cancelled until I hit downtown.”

Her route was one of many across the city impacted by ongoing job action from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 members.

"My bus route is usually always late, so I’m used to it,” Geoff Cromwell, a regular Transit rider, said about his Monday commute.

That’s because the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) – the union representing most transit workers – is in legal strike position and has informed the city its members will not work overtime. This means that transit users will likely see an increase in late or cancelled buses.

In a statement on Friday, the ATU Local 1505 said its members chose not to approve an agreement put forth by the bargaining parties.

According to the union, workers are dissatisfied with the unsafe working conditions, and feel that compensation is inadequate considering the increased risks.

The ATU said that banning voluntary overtime will be the first step in a series of actions which are intended to send a message about the members’ concerns. If the workers’ grievances are not addressed, the actions may escalate to a full strike.

Union representatives said they remain committed to engaging in dialogue with the employer.

Chris Scott, the president of ATU 1505, says they have set a Dec. 11 strike date if the two fail to come to an agreement.

Scott says safety, tight stop schedules, and overwhelming overtime are stressing employees.

"The burnout from continuing to work overtime to meet the service demands of the public which they want to see happen is wearing them out and they've had enough,” Scott said.

Scott says people are leaving the job almost as fast as new employees are being hired.

"Serious questions have to be asked by council on what is driving this exodus from this department. People are just not choosing it as a career."

Scott says he is pleased to see provincial improvements to mental health and addiction treatment and hopes to see more done - but says safety improvements are needed now for day-to-day commutes.

Beginning on Monday, transit users should check schedules and expect disruptions.

Transit Plus will not be affected as it’s delivered by private contractors.

Michael Jack, the chief administrative officer for the City of Winnipeg, said he was disappointed the offer was rejected, causing a looming strike deadline to impact riders.

"I assume it's causing anxiety,” Jack said. “I assume it's frustrating for them. We really are doing everything we can to try and get a deal here to avoid labour disruption."

He said the city is prepared if ATU decides to strike Dec. 11.

"We would urge them to pause until we've had proper discussion until we properly understand what the issues are and had another opportunity at the bargaining table.”

In an emailed response to CTV News Winnipeg, the city said no routes are being completely cancelled.

"In order to mitigate the issue of not having enough operators to run our service because of the current overtime ban, we are pulling individual trips on some routes intermittently throughout the day, but mostly during the morning and afternoon peak periods," the statement says.

The city said Transit needs around 80 operators working overtime every day to cover shifts. 

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