Peterborough Transit is struggling to fill a shortage of eight part-time drivers; union blames “toxic work environment”
Brett Throop  - 
December 21, 2021

Peterborough Transit is scrambling to fill a driver shortage that’s caused a slew of cancellations on transit routes in recent weeks.

The transit service is short eight part-time drivers, wrote City spokesperson Brendan Wedley in an email. As a result, there aren’t enough replacements for full-time drivers who call in sick or are away from work for other reasons.

Peterborough Currents counted more than 100 announcements of cancellations on transit routes across the city last month on the Peterborough Transit Twitter account. 32 of them occurred in just one day, Nov. 7th. 

“So I have to walk to work thanks @ptbo_transit for all your ‘operational issues’ as you call them,” Twitter user @tjstewart47 tweeted on Nov. 30.

After a string of cancellations on Nov. 16, Twitter user @jdd1980 tweeted: “@ptbo_transit at this point why not just cancel all of them and say ‘find your own way home’?”

December has seen fewer cancellations – 47 as of press time, including 11 this past weekend. 

“Transit’s ability to serve our customers is a serious concern to the City and management staff are working to address the impact of driver absences,” Wedley wrote. 

The shortage comes after some drivers retired this year and some new hires were fired during probation, he wrote. The pace of new hiring hasn’t been enough to fill the gap.

The union that represents transit workers says five drivers have also been fired in the last year for allegedly violating the terms of the City’s sick leave policy. ATU Local 1320 has filed several grievances over the firings, according to outgoing president John Spring, who was among those let go. Wedley said the City cannot comment on personnel issues for confidentiality reasons. 

Spring also said drivers are being forced to work “excessively” long shifts, which he said is causing some to retire early and making it harder to retain new hires. 

Many drivers are being scheduled to work split shifts spread over 11 hours or more, while only being paid for eight hours, Spring said. “It has really put a real crimp in people’s quality of life,” he said. “You’re not seeing your family, your kids, friends.”

A driver might have three unpaid breaks of one hour or more per shift, during which they often have to sit on a parked bus at Trent University or Fleming College, he said. 

Under transit workers’ collective agreement, an eight-hour shift can include unpaid breaks that make the workday span 11 hours. However, the agreement says the City will “use its best endeavours to reduce this spread wherever possible.” But management is not making that effort, and lengthy split shifts have become the norm in the last year or so, Spring said. “It’s become such a toxic work environment,” he said. The union has also filed a grievance against the City over the scheduling issue, according to Spring.

Wedley wrote that scheduling is done in accordance with the collective agreement. “Work means time spent driving in revenue (‘live’) service. Drivers do not work for 11 hours and only get paid for eight hours. Some shifts have scheduled unpaid time where drivers are not working.”

Spring said he was fired in November, after going on short-term disability leave with post-concussion syndrome in September. He claims that he was followed by a private investigator, who saw him go to a restaurant. As a result, a third-party adjudicator for the City determined that he was not entitled to sick leave and he was let go, he said. (A new union president was elected to replace Spring after he was fired and will officially take over in January).

Spring said the collective agreement does not allow for the use of a third-party adjudicator to review sick leave cases.

But the City disputes that.

“The City’s absence management and return to work policies apply to all employees and are not negotiated as part of the collective agreement,” Wedley wrote. “The City’s third-party sick leave adjudication procedure has been in practice since 2004 and covers the review and verification of absences, workplace accommodation and return to work processes.”

Arbitration on issues to begin in early 2022

Several union grievances over the sick leave adjudication process are set to go to arbitration in early 2022, Spring said.

Meanwhile, the City is hiring three new part-time transit drivers, who are due to start training in January, Wedley wrote. But he noted that “not all new drivers make it successfully through training or probation.”

It is a struggle for the City to attract qualified new candidates because all transit drivers must start as part-time employees and it can take a while to attain full-time status, Wedley wrote. 

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