St. Albert's bus drivers have signed a new three-year contract that comes with a nine per cent wage increase, but the city says the pay bump will have no impact on the city's finances.
The new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2023, was finalized last month between Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 569 and PW Transit, the company contracted by the City of St. Albert to provide transit services.
With the new agreement in place, St. Albert Transit drivers are now making $35.01 an hour, compared to the $33.65 they were making by the end of the previous contract, which expired at the end of last year. By the end of the new three-year contract, bus drivers will earn $36.78 an hour.
ATU Local 569 president Steve Bradshaw said union members voted to sign the mediated contract “by a narrow margin” as the wage increase didn't meet expectations, and scheduling concerns were not addressed.
“The financial package didn't meet their expectations for a number of inconsistencies; however, they chose by a narrow margin to move forward,” Bradshaw said. “But in doing so, they're sending a message to their employer PW Transit and to the City of St. Albert — and to the transit industry in general — that it's time that the workers in this system got caught up to the contributions that they've made to the difficult budgeting situations municipalities have had.”
“That is the real message coming out of this, it's time for these workers to get caught up.”
Bradshaw said scheduling concerns are a “ubiquitous” problem faced by transit drivers throughout the region.
“Everywhere you go, there are scheduling issues and sign-up issues,” he said, adding, “the sign-up that I talk about is where operators choose their shift for the coming three or four months.”
“As the employers seek to minimize their costs, and tighten up those runs, there's fewer and fewer opportunities for the kind of recovery time that we need in our work lives.”
Bradshaw gave an example where if routes are scheduled too precisely, and a bus gets caught in traffic or just otherwise falls behind schedule, drivers then face the issue of falling even further behind schedule if they need to use the bathroom or simply need to take a breath of fresh air.
“Those things go away when [shifts] just get too tight,” he said.
Louise Stewart, the city's interim director of public operations, says the city has no role in the bargaining process and how PW Transit decides to provide the service the city contracted them for is entirely up to the company.
“[PW Transit] provides the service — how they provide it, what union they choose to use ... how they negotiate their contracts — has not changed our rates whatsoever,” Stewart said, adding the city's contract with PW Transit doesn't expire until 2028.
Stewart also said that the nine per cent wage bump won't be passed down to the city, as the contract with PW Transit is “locked in.”
“[The wage increase] may change their profit margin, they may choose to do things differently, but that's entirely their call,” she said. “We only ask that they provide the services on the contract, so we don't anticipate any changes are imminent.”
“In 2028 when we go back out to the market, we [will] get the market rates.”
In an email, PW Transit's communications office said the company was unable to comment on the new contract with St. Albert Transit drivers.
“PW Transit Canada is pleased it was able to finalize a new CBA without disruption to the St. Albert transit service,” the company said.