Metro Vancouver bus drivers want to get paid the same as drivers in Toronto. Should they?
Union says bus drivers, like TransLink executives, should earn wages comparable to Toronto
UPDATE — Nov. 27, 2019: A tentative deal has been reached between the union representing thousands of transit workers and Coast Mountain Bus Company, narrowly averting a complete suspension of bus service in Metro Vancouver. Unifor said strike action is over and bus service is returning to normal levels.
The standoff between workers and TransLink's Coast Mountain Bus Company is almost three weeks old, with no end in sight.
The main sticking point is wages. The union says bus drivers deserve pay increases to bring them on par with what Toronto drivers earn.
Coast Mountain drivers make a maximum of $32.61 an hour. That works out to $63,000 per year. The top wage for a Toronto bus driver is almost three dollars an hour more at $35.45, roughly $71,000 annually.
But the president of Coast Mountain Bus Company says labour market conditions in this region, not what happens in Toronto, should be the main consideration when it comes to what drivers get paid.
Here's a closer look at both arguments.
What the union says
According to Unifor, Metro Vancouver bus drivers deserve pay equal to those in Toronto for the simple reason that earlier this year similar comparisons were used to grant TransLink's top executives substantial wage increases.
"When they compare executive compensation ... to Toronto they think it's completely fine to give 18 to 25 per cent wage increases. But when it comes to the drivers they reject that comparison," said Unifor chief negotiator Gavin McGariggle.
While it's true that a review of TransLink executive compensation did use salary comparables from the Greater Toronto Transit Authority, known as Metrolinx, and the Toronto Transit Commission, those were only two of nine Canadian transportation organizations cited. Transit companies in Montreal, BC Ferries and the Vancouver International Airport Authority were also included.
The review findings were accepted in July by the TransLink board. As as a result, all top executives at TransLink saw their their salary ranges shoot up, with TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond seeing the largest increase.
Here's the breakdown of the new salary ranges:
- TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond: $406,634 to $517,443, up 25 per cent from the previous range.
- Coast Mountain Bus Company president Michael McDaniel: $279,818 to $372,513, up 18 per cent.
- B.C. Rapid Transit Company president Michel Ladrek (hired August 2019): $279,818 to $372,513, up 18 per cent.
- TransLink CFO Christine Dacre — $279,818 to $372,513, up 18 per cent.
Despite the increases in range, TransLink spokeswoman Jill Drews says Desmond remains at the bottom end, earning $405,242 in salary and another $40,000 in pension in 2018.
Drews said he did not receive a raise this year.
Still, Desmond's 2018 salary is 11 per cent higher than the $365,000 he started at when he was hired in 2016.
Phil Verster, CEO of Toronto's Metrolinx, earned $506,280 in 2018 serving a population of almost six million people, more than twice that of Metro Vancouver.
What TransLink says
Mike McDaniel, the president and general manager of the Coast Mountain Bus Company, says the most useful information when setting wages for employees in Vancouver — bus drivers included — is comparing what other jobs in Metro Vancouver pay.
"We want to be competitive in the markets where we actually recruit for each job," he said.
McDaniel also contends that because the last driver recruitment job fair attracted over 1,000 people, current wages are obviously enough to attract new recruits.
Coast Mountain has offered its drivers a 9.6 per cent increase over four years, which would bring the top wage to about $69,000 per year. The company argues the deal is well above other public sector settlements in the province.
As for labour market conditions, it may be tempting to look at what drivers in West Vancouver's separate Blue Bus system earn. There, driver wages are set at 93.75 per cent of what Coast Mountain pays.
So, when this dispute is settled, West Van drivers will also see a wage gain, without having to go through any of the job action pain.
With files from Jodie Martinson