British Columbia

14 SeaBus sailings cancelled Friday as Metro Vancouver transit job action begins

Transit users who take the bus or SeaBus in Metro Vancouver are likely to see some form of delay Friday as transit operators across the region begin the first phase of job action.

1st phase of job action begins with maintenance workers refusing to work overtime

People wait for a Translink SeaBus at Waterfront Station on Friday in Vancouver amid job action by transit workers. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Fourteen SeaBus sailings have been cancelled for rush hour Friday afternoon due to maintenance staff refusing to work overtime as part of job action by transit operators across Metro Vancouver.

Technicians and skilled trades workers, including engineers, started refusing extra hours as of 8 a.m. PT.

Regular service, particularly on the SeaBus, has grown to depend on workers' extra hours. Without the normalized overtime, TransLink does not have enough engineering staff to run a third SeaBus during rush hour Friday.

The job action means there will only be two vessels running between downtown Vancouver and the North Shore at 15-minute intervals instead of the usual 10-minute gaps.

The reduced service amounts to the cancellation of seven round trips between 3:10 p.m. and 6:40 p.m. PT.

Buses could also see delays with maintenance workers off the clock sooner than the norm.

Transit operators, like bus drivers, are also refusing to wear their Coast Mountain Bus Company uniforms in order to draw attention to their cause.

Coast Mountain Bus Company operates bus and SeaBus service on behalf of TransLink, the region's transit authority.

A TransLink bus driver wore a football jersey and a union toque instead of his Coast Mountain Bus Company uniform on Friday as part of job action. Operators are refusing to wear their uniforms in protest, and maintenance workers are refusing to work overtime. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Some drivers in Vancouver have also covered fare boxes and are asking riders not to pay for their trip. Unifor said this was the drivers' own choice and is not a union directive.

Customers are advised to monitor the CMBC communication lines for the latest information on delays, including TransLink's Twitter feed and its service alerts.

Some bus drivers in the region chose to cover up their fare boxes as part of the job action on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The following services should be unaffected and running normally on Friday:

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

The union representing 5,000 bus drivers said contract talks broke down around noon Thursday, setting the stage for the first phase of job action. Unifor had previously set a deadline of midnight Thursday.

CMBC president Mike McDaniel issued a last-ditch statement Friday morning urging the union to come back to the bargaining table.

"Our negotiators have repeatedly asked union representatives to participate in third-party mediation to help resolve the current situation, but they have refused to take part," he wrote.

The union served strike notice this week after voting 99 per cent in favour of job action. Wages, benefits, and working conditions are key issues in the ongoing contract dispute.

Transit users wait to catch a bus in Vancouver on Nov. 1. Commuters were warned to expect some delays as Coast Mountain Bus Company transit operations began phase one of job action on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor western regional director, said an offer from the company on Monday did not address concerns in a "significant" way. Further offers Wednesday and Thursday, McGarrigle said, had "no improvements."

"As sure as they presented their proposals, they hadn't really moved a penny on transit operator wages [and] nothing on working conditions," McGarrigle told CBC's The Early Edition on Friday morning. 

"They made it very clear that unless we were prepared to fold up our tent and accept their framework, there wasn't going to be a deal."

CMBC said in a statement Friday maintenance workers have been offered a 12 per cent wage increase over four years, with a 10 per cent raise for transit operators over the same time period. It also said the company had "enhanced" its benefit package and "improved" working conditions.

A second statement released Friday said union demands, in addition to what was already offered by the employers, would cost more than $608 million over 10 years.  

"[That] gap is far too much and is not reasonable. We need to be fiscally responsible. These are public dollars," McDaniel told reporters Friday. 

Engineers required for SeaBus service

The SeaBus connects downtown Vancouver with the North Shore across the Burrard Inlet. Regulations state specific engineers must be on board and the union said current routes are only supported by overtime. 

Without the engineers working normalized extra hours, SeaBus sailings will have to be cancelled.

Bus routes could see some delays Friday as maintenance workers with Coast Mountain Bus Company refuse to work overtime, which the union says has become normalized as part of maintaining regular levels of service. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

TransLink said the SeaBus will have fewer sailings Friday and over the weekend, running on 15-minute intervals during afternoon peak hours rather than 10-minute intervals.

"As the days go on, you're going to see more and more routes that are going to be impacted in terms of frequency, potentially cancellations. Every day this goes on, more and more service is going to be affected," said McGarrigle, adding the union is trying to inconvenience the company, not customers.

Metro Vancouver has not seen a full-scale transit strike in nearly two decades. A four-month walkout in 2001 crippled commutes for hundreds of thousands of people. In the end, the provincial government ended the strike with a bill forcing service to resume.

Transit ridership reached an all-time high in 2018, according to data released in April. TransLink said the number of boardings increased more than seven per cent across the system that year — the largest-ever annual increase in transit use.

With files from Rhianna Schmunk and The Canadian Press

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