Red Deer transit workers staged a practice strike picket in the city’s downtown on Saturday.
Earlier in the week, workers voted 99 per cent in favour of strike action in their contract dispute with the city.
“We’re serving notice here with this practice picket line that we mean business. Our people will be out on the picket line and they will not be driving these buses if the city doesn’t get to the table meaning business,” said Steve Bradshaw, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569-Edmonton, AB Local 569 president/business agent.
“Our members have taken zeroes (in pay increase) two years in a row to support the city’s very real fiscal needs. … Our members stepped to the plate and said, ‘We’ll take the zeroes, but next time we need to start catching up.’ What they’re offering isn’t getting us there.”
The contract between the 130-plus Red Deer transit workers and the city expired on Dec. 31, 2022. The two parties have been negotiating since then.
Lawanda Ramsey, transit worker and chair of Red Deer for ATU 569, said the goal is to continue a discourse with the City of Red Deer.
“We’re having a practice event to get our voice here by city hall so we can hopefully get back to the table and start discussions again,” Ramsey said.
“We’re in our 14-day cooling off period right now. After that, we will apply to the labour board to have an official strike vote and we’ll go from there.”
An official strike could begin Friday, Sept. 15.
It’s been a “huge challenge” to manage personal finances with no wage increases combined with rising inflation, Bradshaw stated.
“When last year’s inflation rate for Alberta was five and a half percent, and they’re offering anything less than that, it’s essentially a rollback in your spending power and being able to put groceries on the table, pay your mortgage payment and feed your kids,” said Bradshaw.
“The bottom line is we need to do some catching up here. We have fallen behind and we did it in good faith with the city to help support their needs in the pandemic and through those very tight budget years.”
The practice picket, which drew about 60 people, isn’t just about wage increases, he added.
“So many of these people work a part-time job. They don’t get benefits, they don’t get a full week’s pay. It’s very hard for them,” he said.
“They want to work full-time, … we need the city to step to the plate to get shifts designed so they can get their people to work full-time and get them the benefits they deserve.”