City can do better

Shame on the City of Saskatoon. Our bus drivers are the lowest paid in Canada (yes, less than Regina’s) and have been without a contract for four years.

These ambassadors of our city deal with the public everyday and have many lives in their hands. They are paid less than our garbage collectors. Perhaps whoever is negotiating for the city should be replaced if they are this inept and have failed to reach a deal in four years.

These bus drivers should be told they are valued members of our city and given a decent wage. I cannot be the only citizen who feels that the drivers have been taken for granted and undervalued.

We need to budget more for the service we want, which should also include new buses. Anyone who has travelled has seen how great public transit can be. Come on, City of Saskatoon. It’s time to do better.

Shauna George, Saskatoon





The City of Saskatoon has unilaterally locked out its transit employees represented by ATU Local 615. The City has also unilaterally imposed new terms on the Pension Plan that affects the rights and entitlements of active members of the Pension Plan. The City has recently sent a “Just the Facts” news release to members that contains incorrect and misleading information.

The ATU is deeply concerned about these changes and this misinformation. This notice sets out some of the key myths and facts about the changes the City has imposed on members.


Myth #1:         The City is still providing a defined benefit plan to its employees.

Fact:                False.

The changes imposed by the City fundamentally change the nature of the Pension Plan from a contributory defined benefit plan, in which the employer is liable for any plan costs not negotiated and paid by plan members to a fixed cost, target benefit type pension plan.

The changes impose the key features of a fixed cost, target benefit plan: they limit or cap contributions to the Pension Plan by the City and employees. If these contributions are not sufficient to meet the needs of the Pension Plan from time to time, the new terms require that future benefits be cut in some way.

The City is incorrect and misleading in calling the amended Pension Plan the same type of defined benefit plan it had in place before. True defined benefit plans have fixed defined benefits and flexible contributions that can increase and decrease as needs require. The new terms the City imposed impose caps on contributions and would require cuts to future benefits in some cases.

It is true that the city cannot reduce past or accrued benefits under these new changes. Retirees pensions and active members past service (also called accrued benefits) cannot be reduced under current legislation. Instead, any future funding problem in the plan will require deeper cuts to future benefits.

In contrast, before these amendments were unilaterally imposed, the City was responsible for paying any extra cost over and above negotiated contributions. The City has shifted this burden onto employees, particularly younger employees who have yet to accrue many pension benefits.


Myth #2:         The City has no responsibility for actuarial valuations and no influence over the required contributions to the Pension Plan.

Fact:                False.

The Pension Plan is sponsored by the City, and the City negotiates contributions to the Pension Plan, as well as negotiating benefits paid under the Plan. It has the ability to agree to pay the costs necessary to maintain the contributory, defined benefit pension plan it has always provided to employees.

The Pension Plan is administered by a Board of Trustees. At least half the trustees are appointed by the City. The City has significant influence over the funding of the Pension Plan by its role as a sponsor and in its power to appoint City representatives to the Board of Trustees. City Manager Murray Totland and Councillor Pat Lorje sit as trustees of the plan. Murray Totland has sat as a trustee over the years since 2000.


Myth #3          The ATU caused an additional $6.7 million deficit in the Pension Plan.

Fact:               False.

According to the actuarial valuations approved by the Board of Trustees of the Pension Plan (where the City appoints 50% of the Board), the Pension Plan had a $68 million deficit at December 31, 2012. This actuarial valuation included a “margin” or additional money set aside for contingencies. The size of the margin was 10% of all Pension Plan liabilities, or about $70 million. If no margin were employed, there would likely have been no deficit in 2012. The cause of the 2012 deficit was the introduction of a 10% margin.

When the Board of Trustees “updated” the actuarial valuation following negotiations with the other bargain units, the new valuation only used a 5.4% margin. No explanation was given as to why, now, the Board of Trustees determined that only 5.4% was needed, now that other bargaining units had made concessions in bargaining.

Even worse, the June, 2014 update did not reflect positive investment gains during 2013 and 2014, but did reflect the significant concessions made by other bargaining units. If the positive investment gains had been reflected, it is very likely that the Pension Plan would be fully funded today, including a 10% margin.

The City is misleading members when it states that the ATU caused the pension deficit and that radical changes are needed to address the pension deficit. The City is attempting to bargain with the ATU on information that is over two years old and is very misleading. The ATU has had independent advisors including legal counsel review this information and confirm that the Pension Plan is likely to be fully funded today even without any concessions by the ATU.





Which comes first – the chicken or the egg?

Which comes first – the chicken or the egg? If you solve that puzzle, then you can solve the next riddle: Which comes first, necessary infrastructure or the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service?
Whenever a sales pitch is presented telling me I am getting a top quality product for a bargain basement price, my inner voice says “yeah, right” and my Spidey senses start tingling. My inner voice was screaming and my body tingling when Alan Wallace, the director of planning and development for Saskatoon, said the estimated cost of the proposed rapid transit plan is between $44.2 and $66.3 million. And a plus or minus factor of $22.1 million was disconcerting, especially when you consider the city’s less than stellar record of bringing projects in on time and on budget.
However, to fully implement the plan over the upcoming years, the city will have to build another bridge connecting the east side of the river to 33rd Street. How can this possibly happen with a budget capped at $66.3 million?
The short answer is it can’t. The bridges and necessary railway underpasses and roadway infrastructure are not included in this price. Those costs will be included in the $1.4 billion infrastructure spending planned over the next few decades. (Reminder to self: $1 billion is 1,000 million dollars, which is a hefty expenditure for any mid-sized city to bear, keeping in mind that this is only one budget line.)
So why play with numbers? Why not give a report saying how much the total package will cost, inclusive of infrastructure, and say this is what we will spend over the next three decades to build a good, reliable, affordable public transit system, be it bus or train? Why try selling us a measly $66 million plan by comparing it to other cities like Winnipeg, London or Calgary, cities that spent in excess of $500 million for rapid public transit, when if this plan proceeds we will be spending an equivalent amount over the coming decades? Is it the snowball theory, that being when Council comes back and says, “we have already spent $66 million and we can’t quit now” when justifying squeezing us for the balance needed to complete the project? Whatever happened to that old adage “honesty is the best policy?”
Jarrett Walker, a purported expert in the field of public transportation, has already pointed to the fact that although curbside lanes may be cheaper, they are also slower and less reliable. In debate, the most lucid comment is attributed to Councillor Darren Hill when he questioned whether the City was being short-sighted by opting for the cheaper curbside option today with less economic benefit overall in the future.
Walker also points out that higher bus ridership and total city coverage contradict each other. That prompted transit manager Jim McDonald to add that the system’s long-term plan is to decrease service coverage and increase frequency, which in turn will supposedly increase ridership. That prompted Councillor Randy Donauer to express concern for walking distances to BRT stops for riders, especially in light of our harsh winters (and especially for those citizens with mobility issues.) Walker responded that weather is not generally used as a factor in establishing rapid transit stops. It should be remembered that Walker is from Oregon where the weather rarely dips below zero and snowfall is infrequent.
McDonald says transit will experiment this summer by running buses every five minutes along Eighth Street but without using dedicated lanes. I am bewildered as to how this will work given that buses will experience the same traffic problems private vehicles currently do. Envision bumper-to-bumper buses waiting to get back into moving traffic when pulling away from a transit stop. Add to the fray cyclists leisurely pedalling down the middle of road. If the City wants to pilot this system, then use dedicated lanes and give the public a taste of how this BRT really works. (Then again, maybe this is all part of Wallace’s Eighth Street redesign project presented a while back.)
Councillors Darren Hill and Pat Lorje are opposed to the proposed 33rd Street bridge. (Both have ward boundaries abutting 33rd Street.) Hill has called it the “over my dead body” bridge. Let’s anticipate a state funeral for Hill. Lorje is adamantly opposed to a 33rd Street bridge, but if there is to be a bridge it should be a walking/cycling only. I’m scratching my head trying to figure out how this fits into the BRT plan. Councillor Troy Davies, whose ward also touches on 33rd Street, points out that the City has spent years trying to divert traffic away from this east-west roadway and the proposed bridge would defeat that effort. So many concerns, so few answers.
What I don’t get is why Council promotes a sustainable, walkable, high-density city core, phasing out a reliance on vehicular traffic city-wide in favour of public transportation, and at the same time spends hundreds of millions of dollars on bridges and roadway infrastructure for the driving convenience of the ever-expanding suburbs. (More head scratching – maybe I have dandruff!)
Without a doubt, every city can benefit from a good, reliable, efficient and affordable public transportation system and Council should be commended for forward planning. I have used good public transit systems in major cities and in each instance they have been centre lane systems. These cities have featured park-and-ride parking lots, as well as small commuter buses that link BRT patrons to their neighborhoods. I’m not convinced this proposed plan will get us to that end result. I am also not convinced that a City our size can carry the full financial burden of this plan if the anticipated population growth is stunted. Before Council starts spending hundreds of millions of dollars, I’d like to see the whole picture rather than a sketch.
Whatever happens, transit employees will have to be on side to make this plan work. I can’t see a lot of co-operation coming from those employees given the four-year stalemate on contract negotiations and the animosity between the union and management arising from illegal lockout.

Did You Know??

Currently our operator rate (fixed route conventional rate of pay is $23.85 per hr. With the proposed wage settlement of 10% over 4 years expiring Dec.31, 2016, the rate of pay would be $26.30 per hour.

wow face

The current western Canadian average today using the following 5 cities is $30.07. Calgary ($34.59) Edmonton($34.01) Lethbridge($27.30) Red Deer($28.91) Regina ($25.58). Accepting this offer would mean we would be $3.77 per hr  below Todays current Western Canadian Average. As Of Jan.1/15 our wage would be $25.56 per hour or the equivalent of 89% of the WCA.

Our proposal is that we use this WCAveraging formula at the rate of 95% as of April 2015 to determine until the end of 2016 what our pay would increase. Using todays information, this would mean effective April 1, 2015, $28.56 or 95% of WCA is where we would be based on our proposal. Using todays rates that would equate to $0.98 per hr increase over their offer. 3 Of these 5 cities are currently negotiating with 1 more expiring the end of this year. Currently our Saskatoon Police have used this almost identical formula to determine their wage increases for their last 2 agreements. They are at 98% of the WCAverage. Wage comparisons with other cities is a fair and equitable way to determine rates in Saskatoon. We are not asking to be at 100% or even 98%. When cities such as Red Deer and Lethbridge value their operators at $27.30 and $28.91 today, why are we only offered $26.30 up until the end of 2016?

Makes Sense

Why are we paid less to haul people than our brothers and sisters hauling garbage? No disrespect to our brothers and sisters hauling garbage for the city of Saskatoon, but moving people safely should be as important as moving refuse.

Bus full of people

These comparable cities obviously value the work and compensate accordingly. Saskatoon should do the same. This formula would be the template for all other equally important classifications in our CBA. Whatever the WCA increase is ,it would automatically apply to all classifications and be calculated in April and October of 2015,2016 in our proposal.


This would mean that we would never find ourselves lower than 95% of the WCA and secure that we would not be the lowest paid in Western Canada .The city has stated they have no interest in this proposal and just recently offered us the same offer that was available in Dec.2015.

ATU 615 Press Release- March 17,2016

The Facts On The Pension Plan:

On May 15, 2014 Marno Mcinnes sent a letter to the chairman of the pension plan Ray Parsley , stating that ATU 615 has rejected the cities final offer on May,7 2014 and suggests to the chair of the plan that the board will have to refile and rescind the previous valuation and replace it with a new valuation reflecting no changes to ATU 615 members pension plan.


On June 13, 2014 Mr. Ray Parsley responded in a letter stating that they have rescinded and refiled a revised valuation reflecting no changes to ATU 615 members pension. In Ray Parsleys letter to all parties  he states that the city acknowledges the liability and must make payments at least until a new valuation is to be filed.

ATU 615 sent a letter to the Chair of the pension plan on July 29, 2014 stating that we are in receipt of the revised valuation and letter stating that our benefits will remain unchanged and that the city will be making payments retroactive to Jan.1,2014.

ATU 615 has been threatened at the bargaining table that if the city makes these payments then the availability of back pay could be lost. We have stated in our letter to the chair of the pension plan to simply let us know when you have completed the necessary arrangements for the city to initiate the payments. The city now is stating that discussing our pension plan at the bargaining table was nonnegotiable. They simply are assuming we do not have to discuss pensions at all and they have gone on record stating that the union is changing our position on pension. There is nothing further from the truth.

We suggested at the time that we could potentially agree to those changes but the wage proposal must be better if we were to recommend these changes to our membership. No agreement was signed and obviously now, we are all aware that our pension plan is in a much different financial situation today ,then when we first started bargaining.

You are also aware that the city locked our members out and changed their position on simply leaving our pension plan unchanged, and proceeded to impose those changes through city council on Sept.22, 2014. At the time they felt they were in a legal lockout position and hence made the changes with the intent that the only way we would be allowed back to work is if we accepted these pension changes. It is our belief based on the advice of a reputable legal office who received advice from a reputable actuarial firm that our pension plan today is in a surplus position and that if brought current, it would show that the need for any special payments would not exist. All that would need to happen is for the plan to be updated with a most recent valuation to include all the plans assets up to date and the taxpayers would not have any special payments. Keep in Mind the reasons the city used to initiate this lockout. They used the fact that this need for a special payment existed, but could have easily remedied that problem by asking the board of trustees to simply refile a new valuation showing current assets.


On the issue of wages. Our last position at the table is as follows. We put forth a proposal on Feb.25,2016 asking for our Access members operators (38 positions) to be paid 50cents an hour for 2015 and 2016 in addition to the same wage package offered and accepted by the other unions. Currently they are paid $3.25 hr. less than our conventional operators. It is our belief that they deserve the same pay scale as the work they do is equally valued. The cities of Red Deer and Lethbridge agree as they have or will have wage parity between their operators before their agreements expire. Our Access operators earn$20.60 hr. currently. Our Access Scheduling and booking clerks (9 positions) are underpaid in comparison to our Dispatch area that has very similar duties at conventional transit and our proposal is to raise their rate of pay by 50cents per hour for 2015 and 2016

It appears that there is money to hire 2 full time additional supervisors for the same staffing levels, but in order to do that, the city has reduced service hours  to the public. 65 hours per week have been cut from service at Access in comparison to last year at this time due to budgetary reasons. The same amounts of people continue to work there but they added 2 full time supervisor positions. Our proposal also contained wage adjustments for all journeyman trade positions to coincide with our mechanic pay scale. This includes our journeyman bodyman and machinist positions. (8 positions).

Waste of money

These wage adjustments would be implemented starting Jan.1, 2015. In addition to these wage adjustments our last position to the city was to not pursue the western Canadian averaging formula but to simply have a 45 cents an hour increase for all operators upon receiving their motor carrier passenger council of Canada driver certification starting June 1, 2016.

The city has stated we are professional drivers and hence we believe as professionals we should be compensated in accordance once we receive our certification. Currently today the western average wage rate for drivers as of 2015 is $28.18. This does not take into account that all 6 of these comparison cities will have new wage rates for 2016. These are the accurate facts surrounding what ATU 615 is seeking for our members.

Pro driver

Our defined benefit pension plan is in good financial shape and as always our members are willing to discuss ways to ensure viability of the plan. Having clearly defined benefits for retirement security is what we have had since 1964 and we are resolved to retain the structure as such. The shifting of the potential liabilities and risk of the pension funding directly on to the members and forever  releasing the city from ever having to pay any more money into the plan than what is agreed today is unacceptable.

The ability to collectively bargain any future changes to our plan and keeping the plan sponsor(city of Saskatoon) the legal liable sponsor for any shortfalls is what has been in place prior to this round of bargaining and we as a union have always sat down at the table to ensure viability of the plan when we agree it needs to change. The financial position of our plan at the time of bargaining was not accurate and the need for special payments or a fundamental shift to a target benefit plan is unnescessary and unacceptable.

ATU 615 members have received overwhelming support both morally and financially from local unions and labor associations and as well from  across the country . ATU international supports our fight to protect retirement security for our future and present members. We have been kicked out of the workplace and our members as well as the citizens of Saskatoon have been deprived of a service as a result of the city administration decision.

ATU 615 has fought and won a decision in our Saskatchewan Labor Board that found the city was guilty of illegally locking us out and the city taxpayers were forced to pay us $651,000 in wages for the first 2 weeks of the 4week lockout. We have unsuccessfully sought damages for the last 2 weeks pay as of right now and are in the process of determining as to whether we will appeal that decision.


By our estimation the costs of this lockout exceeds 3 million dollars, not to mention the suffering the citizens endured with losing their jobs, and not getting to where they needed to go and all other associated inconveniences and costs for travel. The University Students Union alone withheld $8800 dollars per day payment to the city for everyday that we were locked out because the city withdrew its service.

We are prepared to stand up for what is fair as long as it takes and the truth will prevail. We are proud of the work we do and want to settle our contract fairly by keeping our pension plan structure as it is and receiving fair wages for the work we do in relation to other western Canadian cities. We are at the bottom of the pay scale and by accepting the cities last offer ,we will still remain at the bottom. By our estimation it would cost approximately $500,000 to settle our contract over and above what has been previously offered to us. Less money than was paid to us for the first 2 weeks of lockout damages. Call your city councilor and ask them to settle the contract. Remember This is an election year for our elected city officials.

Jim Yakubowski   President/Business Agent Local 615