The STM confirms there are more drivers than available buses, but blames pressure tactics by maintenance workers amid labour negotiations.
As the maintenance crisis with Montreal’s bus fleet worsened, so too has the war of words between the Société de transport de Montréal and its maintenance union.
On Thursday, the Montreal Gazette reported dozens of bus drivers are being paid to stay put in garages because there are not enough working buses for them to drive.
Speaking with the Gazette on Friday, STM director general Luc Tremblay confirmed there are more drivers than available buses, but he blamed the union for the troubles.
On Friday, 1,238 buses were sent out for the morning rush hour out of the 1,424 Tremblay said was necessary to respect the STM’s service commitments.
In a fleet of 1,808 buses, 570 were parked for maintenance or repairs on Friday — or 31.5 per cent.
“Pressure tactics are hurting us a lot,” Tremblay said, adding contract negotiations have dragged on since May 2017.
He said employees are refusing to perform certain tasks and are purposely working slower than usual.
Tremblay’s comments echoed those made in a December by Renée Amilcar, the STM’s executive director of buses. At the time, she told the Gazette there are always more problems during labour negotiations.
The union responded to Amilcar’s statements in December by sending a letter demanding the STM stop badmouthing the union in the media.
On Friday, union president Gleason Frenette told the Gazette his members continue to log overtime hours and are working hard to maintain and repair the buses, but they are hampered by what he called bad decisions by management.
“We are not applying any pressure tactics at the moment,” Frenette said. “But surely members are fed up seeing their director denigrating them in the media. We have never seen a director general go out and denigrate his employees publicly.”
The STM has nearly 200 fewer maintenance workers than it did when Tremblay took over as director general in 2014.
Tremblay said he would like to hire maintenance workers “en masse,” but wants to have more of them scheduled to work nights and weekends — a point of contention in negotiations with the union.
Frenette said he’s open to that idea, but would like to see a more generous salary offer than the STM is proposing.
Both sides said they hope the conflict will be settled soon.
Craig Sauvé, the executive committee associate councillor in charge of mobility, and the STM’s vice chairperson, said winter weather is also to blame for part of the problems plaguing the buses.
“It has been a very difficult winter and it’s absolutely putting pressure on our bus fleet,” Sauvé said, adding he did not want to comment on the labour conflict between the STM and its maintenance union.
Tremblay agreed winter weather is taking a toll, telling Radio-Canada host Alain Gravel on Friday morning his buses are “allergic to the cold.”
Sauvé said he’s confident the labour conflict will soon be settled and the first of 300 additional hybrid buses ordered by the Plante administration will be on the road by next winter, which will make a big difference.
Opposition leader Lionel Perez said one way to improve service is to fix the 570 buses that are stuck in garages. He called on Mayor Valérie Plante’s administration to exert pressure on the STM to fix the mess.
“Let’s get our current fleet on the road and give the service that Montrealers are entitled to,” he said. “At a certain point, the STM has to reign in its employees and ensure they are doing the job they are supposed to be doing so we’re not wasting money on drivers waiting around for buses.
“This has been going on for months.”