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Video: Transit workers say union busting tactics being used in the Battlefords

In the video: Back row, Bruce Forrester and Glen Richardson, former Battlefords Transit System drivers; middle row, Darrah Teitel, media contact for Amalgamated Transit Union, Rhealene Wagner, Tyson Materi and Steve Hopkins, executive board members for Local 615 Saskatoon ATU; front, Allan Medd, BTS driver, and Darcy Pederson, president of Local 615. Video by Averil Hall

NORTH BATTLEFORD — Representatives of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615 of Saskatoon were in North Battleford Tuesday to support local transit workers, past and present, who are calling for an end to actions they see as “union-busting.”

According to a statement released by the ATU, it has filed an unfair labour practice charge against the Battlefords Transit System, which is currently being heard at the Saskatchewan Labour Board.

In its statement, ATU claimed, “BTS management has threatened the workers in written correspondence for taking action to organize their workplace. They slashed workers’ pay by cancelling assigned shifts further impacting their substandard wages. Furthermore, they rushed to hire anti-union family members of the board of directors to taint the union vote. These actions constitute irreparable unfair interference.”

Local 615 executives met with local transit workers, some former, on the steps of North Battleford City Hall Tuesday afternoon to hand out information to the public, hold a media availability and seek a meeting with the City of North Battleford.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615 president and business agent Darcy Pederson and local transit employee Allan Medd addressed the media and members of the public outside City Hall (see the video) and they were able to secure an impromptu meeting with Mayor David Gillen and City Manager Randy Patrick.

Meeting in the city council chamber, Pederson told Gillen and Patrick that BTS employees are some of the worst paid transit workers in Canada. They receive no benefits and no sick days, even as frontline workers throughout the pandemic.

Both Patrick and Gillen noted, however, that while the City of North Battleford may write the paycheques to transit workers, for the last year it has been a bookkeeping service they perform on behalf of the transit system and that the city charges for that service. They are not involved in the day-to-day operation, policy-making or hiring of workers. That, they said, is up to BTS and its board of directors, and disagreements over working conditions are between the employees and BTS management.

Neither did Gillen and Patrick have an explanation as to why transit workers had come to understand a directive to cut $30,000 from its budget — meaning no wage increase and no benefits — had come from the City of North Battleford.

Medd said BTS management appears to have gone out of its way to bust the current union drive. He said he wants everyone to be able to make an informed choice on whether to unionize or not.

Medd also said they have been unable to access the board, and have not been able to meet with the city council either, to which Patrick said he would provide them with a name and contact information to get in touch with the board.

Gillen said even the council doesn't meet regularly with the board. They get a once-a-year presentation, he said, plus updates from the council's one representative to the board, Councillor Greg Lightfoot.

As to the question before the Labour Board, Gillen said, “We aren't privy to any of this, so it's hard for us to comment one way or another.”

He said the city council is concerned and they don't want people feeling uncomfortable in their jobs, but they have to wait on the Labour Board's decision.

When he heard suggestions had been made that the city was paying the legal fees for BTS in the Labour Board matter, Gillen said the city was not involved.

“We have a relationship with the transit system, but we're not operating in behind the scenes, running and telling everybody what to do, and hiring lawyers,” said Gillen. “This is just not true.”

In his remarks to media outside City Hall, Medd said better pay and benefits are needed to bring younger people into the transit system. He noted he was at the top of the wage scale for BTS at $19 an hour. Pedersen noted Saskatoon's workers are closer to $30.

"We need to bring younger blood in, and to get younger glood you need a living wage and you need benefits, said Medd.

Medd also said there are no sick days, no benefits and no retirement savings. He noted he lost seven days pay because he caught COVID-19 on the job.