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Calgary Transit defends plan to contract out cleaning services

The director of Calgary Transit said they’re not punishing anyone, it’s a matter of carrying out a plan in the works for two years.

On Tuesday, the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 583, took issue with Calgary Transit’s plan to begin contracting out cleaning services for the city transit fleet, effective Aug. 31. According to the ATU, 110 workers will be affected.

Union president Mike Mahar said that they’re calling out the City of Calgary and Calgary Transit for “punishing transit workers who risked their lives each day and have continued to work to keep the city moving during the COVID-19 threat.”

“Is this how we thank our transit workers?” Mahar said.

“The City of Calgary is showing how ungrateful they are to the hard-working people who went over and above putting themselves in harm’s way – keeping our riders safe. It’s a slap in the face to them.”

Further, Mahar claims that the company being hired has a poor track record, with “thousands of registered complaints” on work that’s been done so far.

“By mid-October this company will be fully responsible for the cleaning and servicing of all our buses and CTrains,” he said.

Calgary Transit ridership has been decimated by the pandemic. Passenger levels dipped as low as 10 per cent of normal. They’ve been bleeding millions in cash per month.  Transit service in several parts of the city was reduced or eliminated in response.

Still, transit vehicles were operating and they had in place a rigorous cleaning and disinfecting regime to ease passenger fears of COVID-19 spread.

Discussions for 18 months, said Calgary Transit director

Calgary Transit’s Acting Director, Russell Davies, told LiveWire Calgary on Tuesday that the union was aware of the decision. He said that the situation with COVID-19 put the plan on hold for six months.

“I don’t think there’s any punishment involved in anything. I don’t actually understand where the punishment piece comes from,” said Davies.

“This is something we’ve been looking at for probably the best part of two years now; we’ve had ongoing discussions with the union probably for the last 18 months or so around this.”

Davies said Calgary Transit is in a difficult financial situation. They expect to save taxpayers between $3 million and $5 million with this move.

“This is purely economic. The city’s got some fairly difficult finances right now,” Davies said.

He’s confident that despite claims to the contrary, the company that’s been doing in-service cleaning, can handle the rest of the job.

“We’ve been more than happy with the work they’ve been doing online,” Davies said.

Davies said they’re always looking at operating efficiencies. Though he wouldn’t say whether that could mean more union jobs could be lost to contract services.

“There’s nothing that we’re looking at right now,” he said.

“But equally, I can’t say that there’s nothing that we won’t be looking at in the future.”

Mahar wants the decision reversed. Especially considering increased use during the economic relaunch and with students headed back to school.

“We are still dealing with the threat of a pandemic and this decision to contract out to a private company puts us and our families at greater risk, especially as we approach an expected second wave and likely surge in COVID-19 cases,” he said.