Acadian Lines’ customers ‘mad as hell’: Union

Acadian Lines has been closed since the company locked out its workers on Dec. 2, 2011, leaving students with few transportation options. The union doesn’t expect this to change before the end of the school year. (Tom Bateman/AQ)

Acadian Lines buses aren’t likely to be back on the roads before the school year ends.

Negotiations between the union representing the 59 locked-out workers and Orléans Express, which owns Acadian Lines, are set for April 29 to May 1 in Moncton. A federal mediator, who arranged the negotiations, will also be part of the talks.

Glen Carr, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1229, is frustrated the negotiations are seven weeks away. He said the company has already missed out on March break, a key peak travel time for the company, and will now likely be off the roads for Easter weekend too.

Marc-André Varin, spokesman for Orléans Express, said the negotiations are seven weeks away because that’s the only weekend that matches each party’s schedule.

“It’s unfortunate for sure. We’d like to move ahead as soon as possible,” Varin said.

Acadian Lines customer service representatives, drivers, mechanics and maintenance workers in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have been locked out since Dec. 2. They’ve been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2010.

Three months have passed and the labour dispute doesn’t appear to have a clear end in sight. During this time, students have had to find other ways to get to and from Fredericton.

After the last round of negotiations, on the weekend of Feb. 12, both sides indicated there wasn’t much progress since the last time they talked.

Acadian Lines has refused binding interest arbitration twice. The arbitration would have ended the lockout by having a third party come up with a solution both sides would be forced to accept.

“We do not believe that involving another third party will produce a contract that will allow us to sustain the service over the long term,” Varin said.

“We’d rather continue [negotiating] with the union and with the help of the mediator in finding a solution ourselves.”

Varin said he’s met with government officials twice about the lockout, but the David Alward government doesn’t want to get involved.

“We understand that they want us to resolve that between ourselves,” Varin said.

“We also respect the fact that there is no subsidy or financial support of any sort.”

Varin says the company has “no hidden agenda” with the lockout, but Carr thinks otherwise.

“We’re being held out as a political pawn by this company looking for money by the government. Until they get the money, we’re not going back to work.”

The company and the union have also provided objections to Advanced Shuttle Service’s bid to provide intercity transportation.

The company, which offers service between P.E.I. and Nova Scotia now, would provide door-to-door service with stops on campus tailored to where the passengers need to go, owner David Anderson said.

Acadian Lines objected because it wouldn’t be viable for both companies to survive, Varin has said.

Both Acadian Lines and the union also cited a safety concern with Advanced Shuttle’s use of 15-passenger vans.

Anderson has insisted his GMC vans are safe, as the manufacturer has added new safety measures to 15-passenger vans in light of criticism. He said accidents involving the vans could be reduced with tighter regulations and more frequent inspections of the vans.

The New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board, which regulates motor carrier traffic in the province, met in Saint John yesterday to hear the case for and against giving Anderson a license.

Anderson isn’t sure when he’ll get an answer.

If he’s approved, it would still be too late for students to use it this school year.

Anderson said he receives calls regularly from students who want to know when his service will be up and running.

The Acadian Lines’ Facebook page is full of angry comments from customers about the lockout.

The customers, student or otherwise, Carr said, are mad as hell.

If the bus line returns to service, there’s no guarantee customers will flock back to them, he added.

“Those people that have travelled with [Acadian Lines] all those years have found alternative ways of travelling now.”

Varin agreed it wouldn’t be easy to get customers back, saying the company would likely have to run promotions once the service returns.

With no intercity bus service in the province for the past three months and the next set of negotiations seven weeks away, the St. Thomas University students’ union is “reviewing its options.”

“At this time, we are in discussion about what clear options exist and the manner through which we articulate our concerns,” president Mark Livingstone wrote in an email.

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