Metro Vancouver bus drivers to hold strike vote
Wages are an issue, but union says increased transit use has resulted in overworked drivers
The union representing bus drivers in Metro Vancouver has set a strike vote for Oct. 10 but says it's still hopeful it can avoid a work stoppage.
"Right now, we're hoping to get the support of our members, get that mandate and return to negotiations to see if we can work out the issues," said Unifor director Gavin McGarrigle, who said talks with the TransLink-owned Coast Mountain Bus Company had broken down.
One of the main issues, according to McGarrigle, is the need to hire more drivers and provide more frequent breaks.
TransLink — which owns the Coast Mountain Bus Company — experienced record ridership in 2018, bringing increased overcrowding on buses.
McGarrigle said it has a cumulative effect on the health of drivers.
"They don't have sufficient time to recover and rest between trips so that they can eat something and go to the bathroom and really just reset themselves," he said.
"Our members have told us loud and clear, enough is enough, and it needs to be addressed now, because if we can't address it now in the middle of a transit expansion, when can we address it?"
Other issues include wages and benefits, with the union hoping to increase pay for drivers to a level closer to the level seen in Toronto's transit system.
The two union locals taking the strike vote have been without a contract since March and represent more than 5,000 drivers on full-sized buses and community shuttles, Seabus workers and maintenance staff.
The last contract for bus drivers was signed in 2016 and came after a positive strike vote. The last bus driver strike in Metro Vancouver was in 2001, lasting nearly four months and wasn't resolved until the provincial government ordered employees back to work.
"We know that had a big impact on our members and the public," said McGarrigle. "Certainly a strike is a last resort."
In a statement, TransLink confirmed that negotiations had broken off after several weeks of discussions.
"As of earlier today, the parties have stepped away from the bargaining table to determine their next steps," it wrote.
"[Coast Mountain] does not anticipate any disruption to service at this time [and] remains committed to reaching an acceptable negotiated settlement."