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Metro Vancouver bus, SeaBus drivers issue 72-hour strike notice

Metro Vancouver bus drivers issue 72-hour strike notice
People in Metro Vancouver who rely on transit may soon need to find a new mode of transportation. The union representing bus drivers, SeaBus operators and maintenance workers has issued 72-hour strike notice with job action to begin by Friday. Jennifer Palma reports.

The union representing Metro Vancouver bus drivers along with SeaBus and maintenance workers has issued a 72-hour strike notice.

Unifor locals 111 and 2200 announced the move Monday, saying contract talks with Coast Mountain Bus Company had broken down.

Representatives of both sides had met for six days of bargaining this month.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver bus strike would be targeted to avoid ‘chaos’: union

“It has become clear that the company has not made sufficient effort to address the key membership concerns relating to contractual language including working conditions, wages, and benefits,” said the union in an update to members.

Metro Vancouver bus drivers and SeaBus workers vote to strike
Metro Vancouver bus drivers and SeaBus workers vote to strike

“The Joint Union Bargaining Committee has now issued 72 hour notice of strike action to the company and we have set a strike deadline for 12:01 a.m. on Friday, November 1, 2019.”

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The union said it plans to continue negotiations for the rest of the week in a bid to avert a strike.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver bus, SeaBus workers vote in favour of strike mandate

It was not immediately clear what form job action would take if workers do go ahead with the strike.

Our members are focused on serving the public, so the last thing we want to do is have any negative impact on the public,” said Unifor western regional director Gavin McGarrigle.

“If we do need to take strike action at this time, we’ve ruled out a complete shutdown, but we’re evaluating various options open to us, such as work to rule and rolling strikes, et cetera.”

In a statement, Coast Mountain Bus Company said the union had not yet communicated what form strike action might take.

“CMBC remains committed to reaching an acceptable negotiated settlement and is ready to return to the bargaining table as soon as possible,” said the company.

“CMBC sees the conditions our bus and SeaBus operators, as well as its customers, face. CMBC has been implementing unprecedented and significant investments to bus service over the last three years.”

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CMBC said those efforts include the planned increase of 18 per cent in bus service hours by 2021, which is anticipated to reduce crowding and improve service reliability. It said it has also hired more than 1,000 more bus operators in the last two years.

Transit police spokesperson Sgt. Clint Hampton said if a strike is called, even if it is not a full-scale job action, the system will be busier than normal.

“If we don’t have buses running we may see an influx of people at the transit systems, SkyTrain station and that, and that may include us deploying additional resources to those stations just to maintain the crowds,” he said.

Hampton added that transit police are unionized, but will be crossing picket lines if necessary.

Metro Vancouver bus, SeaBus workers vote 99% in favour of strike
Metro Vancouver bus, SeaBus workers vote 99% in favour of strike

Unifor 111 and 2200 have been without a contract since the end of March.

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They are demanding improved wages, benefits and working conditions.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver bus, SeaBus workers to hold strike vote Oct. 10

Working conditions appears to be the union’s key sticking point, with drivers complaining that increasing ridership is leaving them frequently behind schedule, with no time for lunch or bathroom breaks.

Earlier this month, members of the locals — which represent about 5,000 employees — voted 99 per cent in favour of giving union leaders a strike mandate.

If CMBC workers strike, it will be the first time workers walk off the job since a four-month transit strike in 2001.