Stand up for Acadian Lines workers

Ella Henry - From College Hill to Parliament Hill (Tom Bateman/AQ)

In the past week, I’ve taken the Acadian Lines bus twice, and each time I’ve thought about the possibility of an upcoming strike.

The union representing Acadian bus drivers, mechanics and customer service representatives are set to go on strike Nov. 21 after voting 98 per cent in favour of a strike – a huge majority by any measurement.

There’s no question that cancelled bus service would hurt students, but it’s important to note that the people who want to cancel buses aren’t the unionized workers, it’s the managers and owners at Acadian Lines.

When I spoke to Glen Carr, the union president, he said the last thing they want to see is a disruption of service and inconvenience to the public and students. But you don’t have to take his word for it. The workers at Acadian Lines proved it with their actions long before any strike vote.

A year-and-a-half ago, Acadian Lines planned to cut several bus routes – buses students rely on. Because intercity bus service is provincially regulated, they had to apply to the Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) for permission to cut service.

Usually these hearings are a formality – the bus company submits a request, the board rubber stamps it. But this time, a variety of people and community groups heard that they wanted to cut service and applied to intervene in the hearing, including the STUSU and the union representing Acadian Lines workers.

The interests of students are much closer to the interests of Acadian’s workers than their management. At the hearing, an Acadian Lines representative told me they could not do anything to improve customer service until they cut routes and became profitable.

While Acadian was allowed to make some cuts (still well below what they had initially asked for), the EUB decision came with the condition that they increase service on other routes.

When Acadian Lines came back to the EUB a couple of months later, asking to be allowed to reduce service on some routes without the corresponding increase to others, the union pushed back.

They offered to make a joint submission to the provincial government for assistance to prevent cuts – Acadian declined.

The union made a submission to the Energy and Utilities Board saying “the approval of the present application by Acadian would not be in the best interests of the travelling public or employees.” The submission included a lengthy appendix detailing all the ways Acadian Lines wastes money.

They talked about how eliminating routes “cuts off students and the public from travelling to and from home” and slammed Acadian Lines for saying they would add a campus stop in Fredericton to compensate for moving the bus station to the middle of nowhere and then not following through with it.

The workers have been negotiating with Acadian Lines for a year now, and in that time, Acadian has walked away from meetings with a government appointed conciliator and has refused to provide a complete package (a complete proposal for a contract). Without a proposed contract from Acadian Lines, the union can’t even hold a vote to accept or reject a contract.

For years, the union has been fighting against service cuts and moving bus stations outside of downtown areas as well as for improved customer service, while the company has done the opposite.

So, if bus drivers, mechanics and customer service reps go on strike next week, remember, it’s the workers who have been standing up for students over the years.

And I say it’s time for us, as students, to stand up for the workers so they can keep standing up for our interests the next time Acadian Lines wants to cut bus routes.