Gatineau bus drivers could be on strike as early as Saturday, after a federal board deemed the transit agency a non-essential service.
In a Monday afternoon ruling, the Canada Industrial Relations Board ruled the Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO) was not an essential service, which would have restricted workers’ rights to declare a strike.
STO lawyers argued a strike would "immediately and seriously cause harm to public health and safety," by boosting car traffic and thus hindering emergency responders.
It wanted the board to restrict any possible strike to outside rush hour, defined as 6 to 9 a.m. and from 2:30 to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday.
But the union argued that first-responders could use designated bus lanes to reach emergencies around Gatineau, and leaned on Supreme Court rulings reinforcing the right to conduct walkouts.
“We’re really happy,” union head Félix Gendron told Metro.
In a written statement, STO director Gilles Carpentier said he was disappointed. "We must respect the decision made today by the CIRB, although this is very bad news for the public and our clientele,” he wrote.
The union is meeting Wednesday. On December 11, 2016, members voted 98 percent in favour of striking, which gave the union until February 9 to declare a strike, as long as it gives the public three days' notice. That means a strike could happen as soon as Saturday.
Earlier this month, the union walked out of talks with STO, after the agency imposed disciplinary measures on Gendron and three other union executives. The union claimed this was related to their labour organizing , which STO contradicted.
“It’s us who made an offer to them, to return to the table —it’s them who refused,” Gendron claimed.
The measures forbade Gendron from entering STO premises, which he violated in order to continue his union work, prompting a further sanction.
This article originally appeared in Metro News.