Metro Vancouver transit strike: Here’s how your commute may be affected

Day 15 of the Metro Vancouver transit worker job action saw the union's overtime ban shift into a higher gear. Jordan Armstrong has the details.

SeaBus sailings and some bus routes are being impacted as the union representing 5,000 Metro Vancouver transit operators and maintenance workers continues job action.

The cancellations and service reductions have been linked to a ban on overtime that began on Nov. 1 for maintenance workers, and which escalated to cover bus drivers on Nov. 15. Drivers and SeaBus operators are also working out of uniform.

Focus BC: November 8, 2019
Focus BC: November 8, 2019

The actions represent the first rounds of pressure against employer Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC), which the union says is refusing to meet its demands for a new contract, including increased wages and better working conditions.

The two sides reached an impasse last month, prompting the union to follow through with its 72-hour strike notice that was issued on Oct. 28.

Talks have since broken down again, and the union says it will continue to escalate job action until its demands are met.

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Here’s what you need to know about how your commute might be affected and what happens next.

What’s cancelled?

TransLink says the SeaBus is operating normally on Tuesday, with no cancellations reported.

CMBC president Michael McDaniel has explained that every SeaBus trip must have an engineer aboard, and the company does not have enough engineers to operate all three SeaBuses without workers on overtime most days.

When the strike began, McDaniel said CMBC had roughly 1,300 buses in active service and 150 spares on standby. Once those spares are all put on the roads, McDaniel said service disruptions would begin quickly.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver bus, SeaBus job action has begun. Here’s what you need to know

On Friday, bus drivers began refusing to work overtime, with drivers also refusing overtime next Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The maintenance worker overtime ban is also continuing.

TransLink is not providing a list of affected bus routes, as it says the situation is fluid and expected to change throughout the day.

An up-to-date list of specific trip cancellations can be found here, and commuters can also sign up for transit alerts.

While drivers were not refusing overtime Tuesday, there were still cancellations on the following routes:

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  • #9 Boundary/Commercial-Broadway/Granville/Alma/UBC
  • #100 22nd St. Station/Marpole Loop
  • #104 22nd St. Station/Annacis Island
  • #128 Braid Station/22nd Street Station
  • #151 Coquitlam Central Station/Burquitlam Station
  • #160 Port Coquitlam Station/Kootenay Loop
  • #555 Carvolth Exchange/Lougheed Station
  • #701 Haney/Maple Ridge East/Coquitlam Station

Translink said the bus driver overtime ban will result in reductions in bus service by up to 10 per cent each day it occurs.

“This job action will be difficult to predict for our customers,” the transit authority said. “Some routes will have gaps in service and there will likely be overcrowding.”

TransLink is advising passengers to watch its website and Twitter feed for information on possible disruptions, and to leave extra time for their commutes.

What’s not impacted?

Job action will not affect SkyTrain, Canada Line, West Coast Express or HandyDART service, or contracted shuttle services in Langley and on Bowen Island.

It also won’t have any effect on the West Vancouver Blue Bus system, which is operated by a different company.

READ MORE: SkyTrain union opens door to possible job action amid stalled contract talks

The Metro Vancouver Transit Police say they will also increase staff to deal with any crowding at SkyTrain stations.

However, contract talks have since broken down between SkyTrain workers and TransLink, which employs them directly, leading to the possibility of future job action that could impact SkyTrain service.

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Where are negotiations now?

TransLink said no new talks are scheduled as of Monday, Nov. 18.

The union representing the striking transit workers and CMBC went back to the bargaining table on Wednesday, with the union promising to escalate job action if no deal was reached.

Talks continued Thursday, but broke down before noon.

Workers have been without a contract since the end of March, and the union says its members are increasingly stretched amid surging ridership on the Metro Vancouver transit system.

The union alleges CMBC’s most recent offer does not adequately address concerns over those working conditions, including guaranteeing minimum break times.

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Accusing CMBC of taking a “bait-and-switch” approach, Unifor western director Gavin McGarrigle said the company had pledged to negotiate on both working conditions and wages, but were only willing to bargain on the former.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver transit strike to escalate Friday as talks break down

“When we had some discussions with the employer this morning they made it very clear that, as we suspected, and unfortunately for the passengers we serve, they are still not serious about addressing the outstanding issues,” McGarrigle said.

“They are still rejecting any comparison with [the] Toronto transit system when it comes to drivers’ wages, even though for CMBC executives and TransLink executives, they’re more than happy to look at the Toronto transit system for comparison.”

McGarrigle said the union is also looking to see skilled trades workers paid the same as their counterparts in the SkyTrain system.

Universities told to prepare for further transit disruptions amid job action
Universities told to prepare for further transit disruptions amid job action

CMBC says the wage gap between what employers are offering and the union wants is about $150 million over 10 years.

“Despite significant progress, we’re disappointed that talks have once again broken off. Wages are now the key sticking point,” McDaniel said, adding that the company had offered drivers a guaranteed 40 minutes of recovery time in every shift.

He added that the company had offered a wage increase of $6,000 for drivers and of $10,000 for skilled trades workers over four years at the top end of their salary grids.

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

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“This is fair and reasonable. However, the union is not prepared to move in any meaningful way from their wage demands, and unfortunately union job action will now significantly impact commuters,” said McDaniel.

“We’re asking the union to be more realistic about their wage demands given that our current offer far exceeds the rest of the public sector in British Columbia.”

McDaniel has said fully meeting the union’s wage demands would jeopardize planned and future transit expansion projects like increased bus service, the Broadway subway and the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension.

McGarrigle said he’s confident the public is on the side of the workers and understand any transit expansion needs to keep worker conditions in mind.

B.C. Premier John Horgan has said the province would not intervene in the dispute, but he vowed he wouldn’t let the job action drag on for four months like the last full transit strike in 2001.