Freedom Express transfer halted

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Evergreens Foundation will not be taking over the accessible transportation service from the Town of Hinton after a formal process identified issues with the transfer.

Unifor Local 855, the union that represents many Town employees, initiated a formal process to identify concerns and issue complaints with the transfer of service on Sept. 15.

The Union filed a Labour Board Complaint under Section 46 and 47 of the labour relations code, which relates to the transfer of a business and operations being carried out under common control or through more than one organization.

A complaint submitted by the union under successorship stated that the Evergreens Foundation is the successor employer to the Town and has acquired the collective bargaining obligations of the Town.

Under the article of common employer, the union stated that the Town and the Evergreens Foundation are jointly running the service and therefore the position should remain unionized.

Due to uncertainty posed by this new development, Evergreens will not be moving ahead with the agreement and continuation of services under their management.

The Town is determining the necessary next steps to provide for those in the community who rely on accessible transportation services.

The process of transferring the service was completed on Aug. 24, following notification steps to the community and stakeholders. 

Council eliminated the Town-provided Freedom Express service during a regular council meeting on Aug. 18. 

This decision was made in combination with entering into an agreement with the Evergreens Foundation to assume accessible transportation service in Hinton.

“Through the transfer of service, the Town eliminated the Freedom Express service, as Evergreens Foundation provides a similar service with their own infrastructure to assume this ridership,” said Caryn Bouchard, Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) manager.

The motion to transfer and then eliminate the service was the result of a process within the Town’s FCSS department to find Council-directed cost reductions, identify internal efficiencies, and ensure services meet community needs. 

With the direction to reduce the budget and the overall FCSS review, a cost-reducing restructure was developed, including the transfer of Freedom Express Services to an external agency, the restructure of the Core FCSS Team from four to three positions, and the development of the Hinton Family Resource Centre.

A statement from FCSS in August explained that transferring the accessible transportation service was identified as a key cost-reducing measure because it presented a strong community partnership opportunity with an established community agency and maintained a high level of service for new and existing clients.

An agreement was established to transfer this service to the Evergreens Foundation that ensured service levels and eligibility criteria remained consistent and costs remained affordable.

“Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Freedom Express service was experiencing lower service request volume for a sustained period of time,” stated Bouchard.

In response, hours had been reduced and the pandemic made safe delivery for this service difficult.

Regular requests for service to community programming were not seen as programs were on hiatus through COVID-19, and as a result, the Freedom Express Service was also put on hiatus, according to Bouchard.

More information on next steps will be shared as the situation is better understood, stated Bouchard.

Customers of the accessible transportation service are encouraged to contact Caryn Bouchard, FCSS Manager at 780-865-6031 if transportation is required.