Bus operators working for the Winnipeg School Division are swapping roads for sidewalks for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday marks the first official day of UFCW Local 832's picketing lines. As of Tuesday, a work stoppage has been in place for Winnipeg School Division bus drivers.

Currently, the union and school division are at an impasse over wage negotiations. Local 832 says drivers need an increase in wages, and WSD says they have nothing more to offer the drivers.

The union has been without a contract since June 30, 2019, and was set to take action in March after an impasse. The pandemic set the union back, but now the group of 95 drivers is putting on the brakes to WSD bus usage.

bus behind fence

"Bus drivers have a very challenging job. Most of them work in the morning and again in the afternoon. They do not make a huge amount of money but it is a fiscal reality in terms of needing a wage increase." Bea Bruske, Local 832's Secretary-Treasurer says.

Bruske says the WSD is using Bill 28, a proposed wage bill that was set to freeze wages for two years and larger small increases, as the reason for the wage freeze. The school division says that their reason for the wage freeze is due to a lack of finances.

She says that WSD has not given a new offer since early summer.

"To have an employer to say that you are not worth a wage increase at all for two years is problematic." 

bus drivers on strike

The treasurer says that this year, there is also the added responsibilities regarding COVID-19 on buses such as extra cleaning and ensuring mask use.
"Their responsibility is to ensure that the kids' safety going to and from school in all kinds of traffic conditions and all kinds of weather is taken care of."

WSD bus operators are at 1810 Selkirk Avenue, picketing in organized groups.

After a 60-day strike, both parties can employ a third-party to make a final decision.

Radean Carter, the Senior Information Officer for WSD says that the division does not have the budget to increase wages.

"The divisions is really just offering as much as it really can afford," Carter says. "We have to be very fiscally responsible."

Approximately 2,300 of WSD's 33,000 students are affected by the lack of busses. Carter says those who use wheelchair services are not affected as a non-unionized contract takes care of students who require additional mobility assistance. 

Carter says the division has been in contact with parents and discussing possible transportation plans.

"Last week we did give them the options of our contingency plan which include, one key thing, that is if parents can get them to school on their own."

Carter says before and after school programs will be in place as of next week to give parents extra time between seven a.m. until six p.m. Carter says a parent can also have their children in language programs further away attend a closer school if needed.