British Columbia

Union heading back to bargaining table Tuesday in attempt to settle transit dispute

The union representing thousands of transit workers across Metro Vancouver says its representatives are heading back to the bargaining table Tuesday afternoon in a final effort to settle a weeks-long labour dispute with Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) before a full shutdown of the region's bus system.

Minimal impact to bus and SeaBus service Monday, but full service shutdown looms

Unifor local president Gavin McGarrigle, left, said the union is prepared to compromise and its members don't expect to earn the wages paid to workers doing the same jobs in Toronto, but they would like to start narrowing the gap. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The union representing thousands of transit workers across Metro Vancouver says its representatives are heading back to the bargaining table Tuesday afternoon in a final effort to settle a weeks-long labour dispute with Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) before a full shutdown of the region's bus system.

Unifor western director Gavin McGarrigle said union negotiators are going back to bargaining with CMBC with "a list of demands" it believes are necessary to resolve the disagreement.

Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor's lead negotiator, says the union is prepared to negotiate until midnight Tuesday and if no agreement is reached, a three-day strike will begin, affecting about 350,000 transit users.

Wages are one of the key issues in the dispute.

Unifor has complained the latest offer isn't comparable to salaries in other major cities.

Translink CEO Kevin Desmond says the last wage offer made to the union is based on market conditions.

McGarrigle said the union is prepared to compromise and its members don't expect to earn the wages paid to workers doing the same jobs in Toronto, but they would like to start narrowing the gap.

A man waits for a bus at a stop in Vancouver on Nov. 22. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

He said Unifor's national president, Jerry Dias, will join the negotiations.

Dias and McGarrigle will meet with the Unifor bargaining committee at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver Tuesday morning before resuming bargaining with Coast Mountain Bus Company in the afternoon.

The threat of suspended bus and SeaBus service in the region has caregivers, doctors, schools, employers and countless other essential services scrambling for alternative transportation. 

Public policy expert Andy Yan says it's tough to grasp the full impact the strike will have, but said it would be a "sizeable" portion of the population.

CMBC said in a statement that more than 350,000 people take the bus daily in Metro Vancouver and they should not be caught in the middle of this dispute.

Monday, Tuesday commutes normal

Passengers saw a relatively smooth morning commute Monday, with minimal impact from the ongoing job action. Two SeaBus sailings are cancelled this afternoon, one each from Lonsdale Quay and Waterfront station. TransLink said passengers may see a reduced frequency in bus service but routes are otherwise running normally.

There is no overtime ban for transit drivers Monday or Tuesday.

Bus drivers, SeaBus operators and mechanics launched limited strike action Nov. 1 starting with an overtime ban by mechanics, but that was expanded to add bus drivers when talks broke off.

CMBC called for a mediator last week as talks collapsed, but Unifor argued the company is not serious about moving forward so a third party's involvement won't help with issues including wages, benefits and working conditions.

In the event of a full strike, transit workers will return to their full shifts on Saturday.

With files from the Canadian Press

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