UPDATE: Acadian Lines, workers return to negotiations

Acadian Lines and representatives from its workers’ union are returning to the bargaining table for the first time in two and a half months.

The bus lines’ mechanics, maintenance workers, customer service representatives and drivers in New Brunswick and P.E.I. have been locked out since Dec. 2 after rejecting a contract offer, taking buses students rely on off the road.

Representatives from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1229 will meet with representatives from Orleans Express on Saturday and Sunday in Moncton. The 59 workers have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2010.

“The union’s been working on this for quite a while, trying to get back to the table with the company,” said union president Glen Carr.

A federal mediator, who has been involved with the stalled contract talks since November, was instrumental in setting the meeting up, Carr added.

“These are going to be talks to try to reach a settlement and get everyone back to work. That’s the union’s goal, to go there with an open mind and try to negotiate,” Carr said.

“It’s been a long time coming and we’re trying to forge ahead as best we can.”

Marc-André Varin, vice-president marketing, sales and communications for Orleans Express, said Acadian Lines is ready for the dispute to be resolved.

“We’re certainly ready to roll up our sleeves and get down to work and go through all the clauses that need to be resolved. From what we hear, that’s also the case with the union so we’re looking forward to that.”

He said the company is disappointed the lockout has gone on so long.

In the past, there was no openness between the two parties and no willingness to look into the issues at the centre of the dispute, like driving assignments and productivity, Varin said. But that thinking has changed as the lockout has stretched on.

“Without a change on that front, it would have been useless to go back to the table to negotiate. The thinking has changed in that regard and they’re willing hopefully now to look at that and see what kinds of gains and changes we can make to the contact for [it] to become mutually agreeable to both parties.”

With Acadian Lines buses off the road for the last two months, alternatives to the service emerged.

Advanced Shuttle Services applied to the Energy and Utilities Board for a license to expand its shuttle service to New Brunswick. It runs between P.E.I. and Nova Scotia, with stops at many university campuses, now.

The deadline to file an objection against the shuttle service operating in the province is Tuesday.

The timing of the talks has nothing to do with Advanced Shuttle Service’s license application, Carr said.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1229 filed an objection to Advanced Shuttle Services’ license application because it will use 15-passenger vans.

In January 2008, seven Bathurst High School basketball players and their coach’s wife were killed after their 15-passenger van collided with a transport truck.

“Those vans are not safe in the winter time. That’s the bottom line,” Carr said of the 15-passenger vans, adding that his union’s objection is in support of the families of the Bathurst basketball players.

Anderson has said his vans are safe and are regularly inspected.

Acadian Lines has also filed an objection to the Advanced Shuttle Services’  license application because the two services would be in competition with one another.

“Our objection is simply based on economics,” Varin said.

“If this was an application for a temporary service while we’re not operating, that would be fine. But this is a permanent license they’re asking for.

“That would just divert more of the traffic and make it less viable for us to operate.”

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