British Columbia

Metro Vancouver will see bus system shutdown next week if no deal reached for transit workers, union says

Striking transit workers in Metro Vancouver will effectively shut down the bus system in the region for three days next week by refusing to come to work if a deal is not reached during ongoing negotiations with Coast Mountain Bus Company, their union has announced.

Drivers, mechanics will not report to work next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday if labour dispute isn't settled

Gavin McGarrigle of Unifor announces a planned shutdown of the bus system by union members at a news conference in New Westminster, B.C., on Wednesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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.


EARLIER STORY: 

Striking transit workers in Metro Vancouver will shut down the bus system in the region for three days next week by refusing to come to work if a deal is not reached during ongoing negotiations with Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC), their union announced Wednesday.

Unifor said its bus drivers and mechanics will not report to work next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as the next step in ongoing job action, which is into its 20th day without resolution.

"We expected them to come to the table, listen to the public, listen to the workers and get it done," Unifor western regional director Gavin McGarrigle told reporters at a news conference Wednesday, backed by workers in red Unifor gear.

"We have made every effort to avoid this level, and although we know that this is a significant impact on passengers, the blame lies fully and squarely with TransLink."

Workers are not pulling "a stunt," he said.

"This is real. These are men and women who are putting their own families on the line to fight for a better transit system in Metro Vancouver," he said to dozens of Unifor employees gathered in the conference room, who whistled and cheered.

TransLink buses at the Vancouver Transit Centre on Nov. 7. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Unifor workers have been refusing overtime on a rotating basis since Nov. 1 after contract talks broke off.

Wages are the sticking point in the dispute with CMBC, which operates bus and SeaBus services for TransLink, the regional transit authority.

"If they come to the table with a reasonable offer, we'll get this thing done ... the ball is in their court," McGarrigle said.

The union has said CMBC remains unwilling to discuss wages, while the company insists its proposal is well above increases offered to other public-sector workers in the province.

TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy responds to Unifor’s job action plans in New Westminster, B.C. on Wednesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"Why is the reasonable demand to start to close the compensation gap over a few years such an outrageous demand that the threats of fare increases, tax hikes and expansion freeze are so carelessly waved about?" said McGarrigle.

Unifor has said it is seeking a wage increase that would bring its workers closer to those in other major regions, like Toronto. It has said the transit operator invokes salary comparisons to other cities to justify raises for its executives, but characterizes comparisons as unfair when negotiating workers' contracts.

'Devastating' impact

In a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy said the agency is "incredibly disappointed" by the announcement, saying the move will have a "devastating impact" on the 350,000 people who rely on bus service on weekdays.

Murphy said that CMBC has delivered on the union's demands for better working conditions and guaranteed rest times for transit operators, and that it has offered wages "in excess of public sector settlements" in B.C.

"The union needs to come back to the bargaining table with more reasonable wage demands," he said, adding that the gap between union demands and the current offer is $150 million. He also said the union has declined three offers to bring in a mediator.

"We are going to be continuing to make assessments but there is very little action that we can realistically take when you're facing a complete system shut down," he said.

Unifor members listen to a press conference Wednesday announcing escalating job action for Translink bus service. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A shutdown next week would affect TransLink's bus and SeaBus services. The following services in Metro Vancouver would be unaffected:

  • SkyTrain
  • Canada Line
  • West Coast Express
  • HandyDART
  • West Vancouver Blue Bus
  • Other contracted services

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains said the provincial government "urges both sides to get back to discussions at the bargaining table."

"This is a matter between the employer, Coast Mountain Bus Company, and the union," Bains said in a statement.

"They have successfully bargained numerous collective agreements together without any outside involvement. It's our expectation that they will be able to do so again."

Meanwhile, B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson and the B.C. Liberal labour critic issued a joint statement calling on the NDP to step in by appointing a mediator.

Impact on universities

The union has called on universities and colleges to accommodate students during the work stoppage.

Matthew Ramsey, a media spokesman for the University of British Columbia, said about 80,000 people take a bus to and from the Vancouver campus every day.

"A thousand buses a day flow through UBC's transit hubs, so obviously a disruption of service would be of great concern to our community,'' he said, adding students, faculty and staff are being encouraged to carpool or cycle.

"We know that a lot of our students come from far afield and we understand that they're concerned about how they're going to get to and from this campus,'' he said.

The university has posted a map of pick-up and drop-off areas on its website. Ramsey cautioned people to obey traffic directions to prevent congestion.

Students should speak to their instructors or academic advisers to determine their options around accommodations, Ramsey said.

SkyTrain strike vote underway

As one Metro Vancouver transit union gets set to escalate its strike action, another is taking a strike vote, adding to the potential for chaos for local commuters.

CUPE 7000 represents about 900 SkyTrain workers and announced Tuesday a strike vote is underway for its members.

A statement from CUPE said the B.C. Rapid Transit Company, which operates SkyTrain on behalf of TransLink, turned down its latest proposal for new bargaining dates, setting off the strike vote.

The union said the vote will be complete by Thursday and results will be announced shortly afterward.

With files from The Canadian Press

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