British Columbia

Metro Vancouver bus drivers vote 99% in favour of strike mandate

Employees of Coast Mountain Bus Company voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate on Thursday night.

Wages are an issue, but union says increased transit use has resulted in overworked drivers

The Coast Mountain Bus Company represents more than 5,000 transit operators and maintenance workers in Metro Vancouver. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Employees of the Coast Mountain Bus Company voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate on Thursday night, with 99 per cent supporting the motion.

The vote comes after negotiations for a new collective agreement broke down last week, according to a news release from Unifor, which represents 5,000 workers at the transit company, including bus drivers, Seabus workers and maintenance staff in Metro Vancouver.

"Our members take the responsibility of providing safe, dependable public transportation seriously and they're asking Coast Mountain to properly recognize the dedication and effort that the workers put in day in and day out to properly deliver it," Unifor national president Jerry Dias said in the release.

The two union locals involved in the strike vote — Unifor Local 111 and 2200 — have been without a contract since March 31. Union representatives have said that major sticking points are:

  • the need to hire more drivers
  • establish wages competitive with other major transit agencies
  • reduce overcrowding on buses 
  • and provide longer breaks.  

"They don't have enough time at the end of their run to go the washroom, take a break, to eat some food, and to just reset themselves so they can provide good passenger and customer service," said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor's western regional director.

"The end result is overworked drivers and that's a serious safety issue that must be dealt with at the table," said McGarrigle.

Negotiations are scheduled to begin again on Oct. 15. The strike mandate will remain in effect for 90 days and the union says it will provide 72 hours' notice of any strike action.

In a statement, the Coast Mountain Bus Company said it is committed to reaching an acceptable negotiated settlement. 

"Both parties will continue bargaining in the coming days," the statement reads. "We don't anticipate imminent disruption to service at this time."

'Enough is enough'

Balbir Mann, president of Unifor Local 111, said drivers don't want to inconvenience transit riders, especially students and low-wage workers, but that a strike mandate is needed to be serious at the negotiating table.

"Enough is enough," said Mann on CBC's The Early Edition on Thursday morning. "We need to improve our working conditions."

According to Mann, drivers want at least seven minutes at the end of their routes to go to the washroom, hydrate and stretch their legs. He said wages are also an issue and that drivers make less money than SkyTrain attendants, but he would not go into details about how much of an increase they are asking for.

Mann said there are other actions drivers may take instead of strike action, such as refusing to wear uniforms or collect fares. 

The last bus driver strike in Metro Vancouver was in 2001. It lasted nearly four months and wasn't resolved until the provincial government ordered employees back to work. 

"In 2001 it was zero per cent service, all of the members walked off the job and it was quite a significant time," said McGarrigle.

"SkyTrain continued to run but all of the bus service stopped, and of course again that's a last resort, we don't want to see that. Our members are out there to serve the public."

McGarrigle said there is a range of strike options available to employees including rotating strikes and overtime bans, but to date no decision has been made.

TransLink — which owns the Coast Mountain Bus Company — experienced record ridership in 2018, bringing increased overcrowding on buses.

With files from Justin McElroy and Cory Correia

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