British Columbia

What we know about job action by Metro Vancouver transit workers

More than 5,000 transit workers have launched the first phase of job action in Metro Vancouver.

Action began Friday; union representative says strike could escalate

More than 5,000 Metro Vancouver transit workers could begin job action on Friday. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

More than 5,000 transit workers have launched the first phase of job action in Metro Vancouver.

Unifor, the union representing the workers, was unable to reach an agreement with the Coast Mountain Bus Company by midnight Nov. 1 — the union's imposed deadline. Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) operates bus and SeaBus service on behalf of TransLink, the region's transit authority.

The first phase of the action began Friday with transit operators refusing to wear CMBC uniforms and maintenance workers refusing to work overtime, the latter of which, the union said, has become normalized as part of maintaining regular service.

The refusal to work overtime has led to SeaBus cancellations and will likely lead to schedule changes and fewer buses on the roads, due to a lack of maintenance.

Unifor has said it hopes to minimize disruption to the public during its strike, but will escalate job action if an agreement is not reached with CMBC.

"We know there's a lot of people who rely on transit — including, by the way, our members — and we want to try and impact the public as [little] as possible," McGarrigle told The Early Edition's Stephen Quinn.

"The longer it [the strike] goes on, the bigger the impact," he said.

West Vancouver Transit will operate as usual and maintain regular levels of service.

Strike would hit Surrey hard: board of trade

Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said a strike would definitely impact Surrey's economy because there are limited transportation options south of the Fraser River.

'We understand these things happen, but it does affect businesses," said Hubermann on The Early Edition. "We still don't have ride-sharing, so the alternatives are quite slim".

The strike could also impact students and faculty at post-secondary institutions across Metro Vancouver.

"Because things are so unaffordable in the Lower Mainland, most students live away from school and work and rely on transit," said B.C. Federation of Students chairwoman Tanysha Klassen.

Klassen said she expects faculty and professors to be patient and understanding during a strike, because many of them are also transit-dependent. She said many students who use transit have voiced concerns about overcrowding and feeling unsafe on buses — concerns shared by the drivers taking job action.

"All of the issues about working conditions that have been raised are definitely reflected in what we hear from students about how their transit experiences have been," said Klassen, also speaking on The Early Edition.

A group of Coast Mountain Bus Company workers on strike in 2001. (CBC)

The last region-wide bus driver strike — the longest transit strike in the province — lasted 123 days before the province passed legislation to get buses rolling again. 

The union served Coast Mountain with a 72-hour strike notice on Oct. 28.

Unifor said the employer failed to address operators' concerns about pay, benefits and working conditions during contract negotiations.

"It's not hard to understand what is happening here," Unifor national president Jerry Dias said in a press release at the time. "The company is showing little respect for the difficult working conditions that our members must face every day."

Government will not interfere, says labour minister

As of Oct. 29, Labour Minister Harry Bains said he had no plans to step in. He said "government will not interfere with a free collective bargaining process," though he admitted he is deeply concerned about the potential for disruption to public services.

"We all remain hopeful for the best outcome so that people can continue to rely on the safe and efficient transit service they've come to know and expect," he said in a statement.

Bains said he is optimistic this will not get to a strike situation and that a fair settlement can be reached before Friday.

"I am encouraging both sides to return to the table, to negotiate in good faith and to resolve their differences; that is what collective bargaining is all about," he said.

Members vote 99% in favour of strike

Unifor represents more than 5,000 transit workers in Metro Vancouver, including bus drivers, SeaBus workers and maintenance staff.

Members of Unifor locals 111 and 2200 voted 99 per cent in favour of a strike mandate on Oct. 10. The last time the region saw a transit strike was in 2001, when drivers were off the job for four months.

Union representatives have said the major sticking points in negotiations with the employer are:

  • The need to hire more drivers.
  • Establishing wages competitive with other major transit agencies.
  • Reducing overcrowding on buses.
  • Providing longer breaks.  

'Unprecedented growth'

In a written statement, Coast Mountain said it's ready to return to negotiations as soon as possible.

"Over the last three years, Metro Vancouver's transit system has seen unprecedented growth, leading all transit agencies in Canada and the United States," the statement said.

The company said it's made "unprecedented and significant improvements" to bus service, including hiring more than 1,000 bus drivers in the last two years. 

"At this moment, there are no disruptions to service, but CMBC, [B.C. Rapid Transit Company], Transit Police and TransLink are working to develop a robust contingency plan to assist customers should a worst-case scenario unfold," the statement said.

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