British Columbia

Union says transit workers will walk out if deal isn't reached by midnight

The national president of the union representing thousands of transit workers in Metro Vancouver says Unifor is hoping last-minute negotiations with TransLink's Coast Mountain Bus Company will end in a deal, averting a three-day shutdown of most of the region's bus system.

President says union is 'here to settle' as last-minute transit talks got underway Tuesday afternoon

Unifor national president Jerry Dias provides an update on transit contract talks in Vancouver on Tuesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The national president of the union representing thousands of transit workers in Metro Vancouver says Unifor is hoping last-minute negotiations with the Coast Mountain Bus Company will end in a deal, averting a three-day shutdown of most of the region's bus system.

"We have all day today and we're here to settle," Unifor national president Jerry Dias told reporters Tuesday morning. "In fact, if there's a willingness to settle, I suspect we'll get there."

Negotiators from Unifor and CMBC, which operates buses on behalf of TransLink, met at the Westin Bayshore hotel in downtown Vancouver to begin the fresh round of bargaining at 10 a.m. PT. 

Unionized transit workers have pledged to walk off the job on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday if a deal is not reached by midnight. 

"This isn't a bluff," said Dias, who was called in as part of a last-ditch effort to shake deadlocked talks. "As of now, we're having a strike at midnight."

Unifor national president Jerry Dias said Tuesday union representatives are eager to settle with Coast Mountain Bus Company and avoid a full strike. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Both sides have said they are prepared to talk through into the evening. Representatives from each side have been huddled in separate rooms of the ballroom wing at the downtown hotels, with the large room reserved and set up with long tables to use when both sides come together to speak face to face.

The strike would mean a shutdown of almost the entire bus system in the region, and leave about 350,000 passengers scrambling for other forms of transportation.

Transit staff first launched job action on Nov. 1, beginning with overtime bans for staff. That ban has led to more than 100 cancelled SeaBus sailings and countless delays for buses.

There is no overtime ban in effect Tuesday and the SeaBus is running normally.

The key issues at the heart of the union's dispute with the bus company were wages and working conditions. Unifor has complained the latest offer isn't comparable to salaries in other major cities, but TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said the last wage offer made to the union is based on market conditions.

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond arrives at labour negotiations at the Westin Bayshore hotel in Vancouver on Nov. 26, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Unifor's western regional director Gavin 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.

Dias said the wage issue is a "significant challenge." He said he would not be commenting on any progress made in morning negotiations.

Dias said his presence in negotiations and the fact Desmond made a rare public comment on Monday is proof the dispute is being taken seriously.

"It's also our way of saying to all level of government in TransLink that we mean business … to pass on a message that we want to settle," Dias said.

Desmond briefly met with Unifor representatives at the hotel around noon on Tuesday, but as he is employed by TransLink and not CMBC, he is not participating in negotiations. 

With files from Lien Yeung and the Canadian Press

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