STL bus drivers confront Boyer over unresolved labour dispute

Mayor admits STL hired more administrators, leading to 20 per cent higher costs

With the resumption of in-person Laval city council meetings following two years of televised webcasts during the pandemic, perhaps one of the biggest signs of things returning to normalcy last week was a noisy demonstration by angry STL bus drivers who’ve been more than two years without a collective contract.

Just as angry unionized city workers held many noisy demos outside Laval city hall in the years before the pandemic, the STL drivers gathered on the evening of March 1 in the rear parking lot at 3131 Saint Martin Blvd. West, where city council currently meets while city hall on Souvenir Blvd. is being renovated.

STL drivers’ grievances

In a statement Canadian Union of Public Employees #5959 released to the media last week, union local president Patrick Lafleur said the union local obtained a strike mandate with 99 per cent support from its members following a vote held in January last year.

STL bus drivers, who are members of CUPE local 5959, demonstrated outside the Laval city council meeting on March 1. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

The drivers’ union maintains that from 2020 to 2022, in the midst of a pandemic, administrative costs at the STL rose by almost 20 per cent. He claims the STL has trouble retaining employees at a time when there are labour shortages, yet administrative costs have increased while the STL provides less service to clients.

Mayor Stéphane Boyer, answering as union members could be heard yelling loudly outside, said the union reps were “asking that I put myself in their shoes, and I sympathize. And in any case, I think we all in one way or another would like to see you having good work conditions while developing public transit in Laval.”

More administrators hired

Regarding the STL’s higher administrative costs, Boyer said he was aware the transit agency hired several people for projects involving major investments, including a new garage for the growing electric bus fleet, which he said is the largest project the STL had ever undertaken.

“A good number of the hirings in recent years were people for projects like these,” he added, referring to other STL undertakings in recent years whose aim is to help reduce the transit agency’s greenhouse gas output.

Laval mayor Stéphane Boyer speaks during the March 1 city council meeting. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

Boyer noted that revenues from passenger fares at the STL fell by 52 per cent since the beginning of the pandemic, while a special transfer payment, based on provincial revenues from gasoline taxes and SAAQ licensing fees, dropped by 21 per cent during the same period. As well, revenues from advertising on STL buses fell by 22 per cent.

“So, all this to say that there was a drastic fall, greatly related to the pandemic, in the revenues received by public transit systems, including the STL.”

Boyer tried to reassure drivers

He said the amounts the City of Laval and the provincial government pour into the STL, to supplement the transit agency’s current operating costs including salaries, increased from $189 million in 2019 to $249 million in 2020.

“The will is here,” said Boyer, trying to reassure the STL drivers of the city’s good intentions, after he had cited more statistics and information. “This is the challenge, really, to figure out where we’re going to find the money.”

While the mayor expressed his willingness to sit down and talk public transit management issues with union representatives, one of the union leaders who addressed the mayor and council noted that Boyer’s office had previously declined an opportunity to meet and failed to acknowledge a letter from the union.

Traffic lights at 100th Ave.

In other business dealt with during the council meeting, the councillors approved the allotment of an additional $43,506.87 as a contingency for extra work to implement a new traffic lights system erected at the corner of 100th Ave. and Saint-Martin Blvd. in Chomedey. The contract in question, awarded in 2021 to Laurin/Laurin (1991) Inc. of Mirabel, was for $319,024,00.

Front row, the five Action Laval opposition members who sit on city council: Isabelle Piché (Saint-François), Archie Cifelli (Val-des-Arbres), Aglaia Revelakis (Chomedey), Paolo Galati (Saint-Vincent-de-Paul), and David De Cotis (Saint-Bruno).

As well, council authorized the release of more than $310,000 in contingency sums for additional work on the rehabilitation of water pipes, sewer conducts and other underground infrastructure beneath the intersection of Notre Dame and Jarry boulevards and eastward to 75th Ave. This is a late phase of a large project that closed the heavily-trafficked intersection from May last year into the summer months.

Commission appointments

City council also approved the appointment of several members to council commissions. Marjory Bernier was named an independent member on the Consultative Council for Intercultural Relations for two years.

Aissa Zebiri was named an alternate member should a position become available in the next two years on the commission. As well, council renewed the nomination of Chaïma Ben Miloud as an independent member of the same commission, also for two years.

Appointments were also made to the commission that oversees the city’s Fonds Place-du-Souvenir, which doles out sums to worthy children’s causes from a fund established with money paid back to Laval by former contractors found to have overbilled the city.

Ève Dalphond, Gabrièle Guay, Claude Cartier and Raymond Rochette were named as independent members of the Fonds Place-du-Souvenir Committee. Dalphond was also named president of the committee.