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Multiple groups seek ‘essential service’ label for public transit in Metro Vancouver

Click to play video: 'Labour board hearing on possible Metro Vancouver bus strike expansion'
Labour board hearing on possible Metro Vancouver bus strike expansion
Striking transit supervisors want to expand their picket lines to include SkyTrain stations if mediated talks don't lead to a deal by midnight Friday. Kristen Robinson reports the BC Labour Relations Board is hearing from the union. – Jan 31, 2024

While a strike appears to have been narrowly averted in Metro Vancouver’s ongoing transit supervisor dispute, more than 4,300 people have signed a petition asking for public transit in the region to be designated as an “essential service.”

According to organizer Kevin Neath, who lives in Surrey and commutes to work on the bus daily, public transportation is “not just a convenience but a necessity” for many. His Jan. 22 petition notes that more than 20 per cent of Surrey residents alone use transit for their daily commute, according to the city’s 2018 strategic transportation plan.

“Without buses, I am virtually immobile. This is not just my story but the reality of many citizens in our community who depend on this service every day,” Neath said in the petition.

Click to play video: 'Metro Vancouver transit negotiations taking place, hearing for SkyTrain picket lines to be held '
Metro Vancouver transit negotiations taking place, hearing for SkyTrain picket lines to be held 

He and his petition signatories are not alone in wanting the label attached to public transit in the aftermath of a 48-hour stoppage earlier this month that left tens of thousands of commuters in the region scrambling to find alternatives.

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The manager of Metro Vancouver’s transit system has also applied to the B.C. Labour Relations Board to be designated an essential service. In a statement, TransLink said it understands its bus and rail operators, including Coast Mountain Bus Company, have separately sought the same designation.

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Opposition Leader Kevin Falcon of BC United has vouched for the designation as well.

Last week, Labour Minister Harry Bains said it’s up to the board to decide whether transit is declared essential, and up to individual parties to reach out and make their case for the label. It happens all the time during labour disputes, he added.

Click to play video: 'Should B.C. transit be considered an essential service?'
Should B.C. transit be considered an essential service?

Coast Mountain’s transit supervisors originally said they would strike again — this time for 72 hours — if a new contract with the company wasn’t reached by midnight on Friday.

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On Thursday, however, both CUPE 4500 and the Coast Mountain accepted the recommendations of mediator Vince Ready. A memorandum of agreement must be signed by all parties before the ratification process.

While talks with Ready were ongoing, the two sides also faced off in labour relations board hearings.

Click to play video: 'Survey shows an increase in Surrey transportation options needed'
Survey shows an increase in Surrey transportation options needed

The board said in a Wednesday ruling that Coast Mountain broke labour rules by using replacement workers during the first strike earlier this month but the breach was minimal. It declined to award damages or order further investigations.

The union had complained that the bus company used replacement workers during the 48-hour stoppage that ended Jan. 24.

In its decision, the board said the bus company made “significant efforts” to minimize the breach, and the union even complimented the firm for its handling of replacement worker issues before lodging the complaint.

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The board is hearing a separate complaint by CUPE 4500 against Coast Mountain and TransLink alleging it unfairly tried to reduce the strike’s impact.

Click to play video: 'Looming Metro Vancouver transit strike escalation'
Looming Metro Vancouver transit strike escalation

 

Coast Mountain provides 96 per cent of all Metro Vancouver Bus services, as well as the SeaBus service across Burrard Inlet.

In Wednesday’s ruling, the board said the bus firm’s breach of replacement worker rules was “understandable in the circumstances.” This was “particularly so” given the size and complexity of the bus firm’s operations, it added, and “the novelty of the particular strike action by the union, which is unprecedented in the history of the collective bargaining relationship between the parties.”

— with files from The Canadian Press’ Ashley Joannou

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