Metro Vancouver lurches toward full scale bus strike after contract talks break off
1st phase of job action set to begin Friday with a uniform and overtime ban, affecting SeaBus service
Metro Vancouver is a step closer to a full-on bus strike after contract talks between the Coast Mountain Bus Company and the union representing transit workers broke off.
"We have not had a serious offer from the company since we served strike notice," said Unifor national president Jerry Dias.
"In other words, the company feels very comfortable with system-wide job action."
No further talks are scheduled and the nearly 5,000 members of Unifor will go ahead with the first phase of job action starting at 8 a.m. Friday by refusing to wear uniforms and refusing to work overtime.
The president of Coast Mountain Bus Company said the company has offered a wage and benefits package that is better than most other public service sectors settlements in the province.
"We've been negotiating with the union in good faith for 29 days," said Mike McDaniel. "In making every effort to avoid job action, we've repeatedly asked the union to participate in third party mediation. They have refused all of our requests."
McDaniel said the job action will impact transit users and cause some service cancellations. He advised customers to monitor the CMBC communication lines for the latest information, including transit alerts.
Although buses and the SeaBus will still be running, drivers will not be wearing company clothing as part of the job action, while maintenance workers and SeaBus staff will not be accepting any overtime shifts.
The union said the move will gradually increase pressure on the transit system, potentially leading to fewer buses on the roads and delays to SeaBus service.
"We've said all along that one of the things we want to do is put pressure on the company and minimize disruption to the public. The maintenance and SeaBus overtime ban will start to impact service fairly shortly and the uniform ban is really to send a message to the passengers that all is not right at Coast Mountain Bus Company," said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor western regional director.
'Fewer vehicles available'
Mike Smith, president of Unifor Local 2200 representing maintenance and SeaBus workers, added the transit system in the region has "normalized overtime," so impact without the extra work will be tangible.
"We trust that TransLink will not put unsafe vehicles back on the road, so it is a question of fewer vehicles available in the system," Smith said.
The union is asking for improvements to wages, benefits and working conditions.
McGarrigle said the nearly 5,000 members of the union will escalate their job action in the coming weeks if no progress is made.
Coast Mountain Bus Company operates bus and SeaBus service on behalf of the TransLink transit authority.
In an earlier statement, Coast Mountain Bus Company said the job action could have swift impact on bus and SeaBus service, but the following services should be unaffected and running normally:
- Canada Line
- West Coast Express
- West Vancouver Blue Bus
- Other contracted services
"Seabus service we intend to keep running — it could mean that some sailings are cancelled," said Jill Drews, TransLink spokesperson. "We recently rolled out 10-minute service in the peak. That will have to be scaled back."
If it comes to a full shutdown, experts say the dispute could have significant consequences for an urban area that relies heavily on transit.
"If we do have a serious disruption that lasts an extended period, it's going to set back the progress that has happened to shift people to more sustainable urban mobility options here in Vancouver,'' said Anthony Perl, professor of urban studies and political science at Simon Fraser University.
Public transit plays an increasingly important role in the regional transportation network as the population grows and the space for new roads and infrastructure doesn't, Perl said.
In April, TransLink released data showing ridership reached an all-time high in 2018. The number of boardings increase more than seven per cent across the system, representing the largest ever annual increase in transit use.
With files from Rhianna Schmunk, Joel Ballard and the Canadian Press