British Columbia

No strike! SkyTrain running Tuesday after union, employer reach deal with minutes to spare

A shutdown of SkyTrain services has been narrowly avoided, after a tentative deal between the workers' union and their employer was reached with minutes to spare on Tuesday morning.

Commuters saw some delays to service after contract negotiations ran well into Tuesday morning

Commuters board a SkyTrain at Metrotown Station in Burnaby, B.C., on Dec. 10. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Thousands of relieved commuters journeyed as normal across Metro Vancouver on Tuesday morning after a shutdown of SkyTrain services was narrowly avoided, when a tentative deal between the workers' union and their employer was reached with minutes to spare before dawn.

TransLink said service on the Expo and Millennium lines saw an hour of delays first thing in the morning as the system booted up for the day, but the trains were soon operating normally and will continue to do so through the day.

Bleary-eyed representatives emerged from the negotiation room in downtown Vancouver less than 10 minutes before the shutdown was scheduled to begin at 5 a.m. PT. Both sides had been in talks for 18 hours, trying to work out a deal before a planned three-day strike.

"It's been a very long night for myself and the rest of our crew behind me and we are glad that we were able to come to an agreement," CUPE 7000 president Tony Rebelo told reporters in the lobby of the Labour Relations Board building, where negotiations took place.

"Feeling good, but feeling tired."

CUPE 7000 president Tony Rebelo announces to reporters that a deal has been reached to avoid a SkyTrain shutdown just before 5 a.m. PT Tuesday. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

The details of the agreement aren't being released until the deal is ratified by union members. Rebelo said negotiations with the B.C. Rapid Transit company took longer than expected because there were "a lot of key issues" that became sticking points.

CUPE 7000, the union representing SkyTrain workers, had been prepared to launch a full strike beginning Tuesday. The stoppage would have left 150,000 commuters looking for another form of transportation until regular service resumed Friday.

TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy said the SkyTrain system was fully powered down Monday night in anticipation of the strike. He said it takes time to reboot the system and run necessary safety checks, which meant delays in service Tuesday morning.

"These systems are quite complex to bring back online," Murphy said. "Those 5 a.m. trains ... left more around the 5:45 or 6 a.m. mark."

He said all stations have since opened.

A shutdown of the Expo and Millennium lines would have left around 150,000 commuters looking for another form of transportation. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Passengers were advised to check TransLink's transit alerts for information about any lingering disruptions.

A number of commuters passing through Commercial-Broadway Station in Vancouver said they kept an anxious eye on negotiations through the night. Some woke up early and counted down until the deadline.

"I wasn't sure what I was going to do, but it was pretty last minute. I just woke up this morning and saw it was still running so I'm really happy," said Madison Russell, who relies on the SkyTrain to get to work in North Vancouver. "I was quite stressed out."

Madison Russell relies on the SkyTrain to get to work in North Vancouver. She said she was stressed Monday night, waiting to hear whether a strike would happen. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

"I woke up at 4, then it was 4:55 and I was waiting for the 5:00 deadline," said another commuter, Leo Iampietro, standing at the same station on his way to work in downtown Vancouver.

"I was kind of disappointed," he added with a laugh. "I was going to take the day off."

The Expo and Millennium lines link the cities of Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, Port Moody and Coquitlam.

CUPE 7000 members voted 96.8 per cent in favour of job action in November after months-long talks broke down. The workers' contract had expired at the end of August.

With files from Gian-Paolo Mendoza and Andrea Ross

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