A higher number of drivers calling in sick lead to route cancellations and crowded buses in Saskatoon Thursday.
Saskatoon Transit Director Jim McDonald told reporters 12 drivers had called in sick, with nine of them calling after 6 a.m. Thursday morning.
Combined with continuing job action by the Amalgamated Transit Union, the sick calls resulted in the cancellation of 21 regular service routes and 11 school routes.
“This is the first day that the transit union job action has caused us to make major cancellations to regularly scheduled routes,” he said. “We are not necessarily 100 per cent sure that this will continue over the next few days, but I expect that it will.”
The cancellations were expected to cause over-crowding on 13 regular routes during afternoon and evening service Thursday.
McDonald added that since the job action began, an average of five drivers have not been showing up to work in the morning.
He stopped short of calling the abnormal sick calls a wildcat strike, but said Saskatoon Transit would be investigating their legitimacy.
“We’re just noticing that yesterday there were five and today there are 12,” he said. “I leave everybody else to make a decision on what kind of effect that has.”
He added there’s no reason to suspect those who are calling in sick for the first time are being dishonest.
ATU Local 615 released a statement late Thursday afternoon saying they weren’t instructing their members to book sick intentionally.
“Our operators are human and it is currently cold and flu season,” the statement read. “Our operators are exposed to higher than normal amounts of people in a confined area for extended periods of time and they get sick it happens.”
ATU drivers have been refusing any overtime hours in an effort to pressure the City into conceding to their contract demands.
Drivers have been without a contract for over four years, with the sticking point in negotiations resting on the structure of their pension plan.
Eight other city unions have agreed to a joint-funding model that will see any pension budget shortfalls replenished equally by union members and taxpayers.
ATU has maintained the pensions should be publicly funded and guaranteed.
While McDonald hasn’t been directly involved in negotiations he said there haven’t been any formal talks since Monday, but lines of communication remain open.
When asked if the dispute has affected the relationship between drivers and other staff, McDonald said they’ve worked to maintain a professional atmosphere.
“Yes this is a temporary period of disruption, but we will have to work together when this is over,” he said. “So let’s not do anything that we’ll regret later.”