Bus company head says pay cut would not help end Metro Vancouver transit strike

Click to play video: 'Day 3 of Metro Vancouver transit strike'
Day 3 of Metro Vancouver transit strike
SeaBus cancellations continue to pile up due to a maintenance worker overtime ban, part of initial job action for thousands of Metro Vancouver transit workers. – Nov 3, 2019

The head of the bus company at the centre of Metro Vancouver’s transit strike isn’t looking at cutting his salary to help meet the demands of thousands of transit workers, arguing it would make little difference.

The union representing 5,000 bus operators, SeaBus operators and maintenance workers began job action Friday morning, saying Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) is refusing to meet its demands for a new contract, including increased wages and better working conditions.

An overtime ban for maintenance workers has already had an impact, with nearly 50 SeaBus sailings cancelled between Friday and Sunday.

Click to play video: 'Afternoon commute feels impact of transit strike'
Afternoon commute feels impact of transit strike

But CMBC president Michael McDaniel said Sunday the two sides remain too far apart to reach a deal anytime soon.

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“This is an unfortunate circumstance,” he said. “But what the union has as their demands is about $600 million different from where we are across 10 years. That is a very significant amount.”

When asked if he would consider seeking a reduction in his salary and those of other TransLink executives to help close that gap, McDaniel said it’s the union that needs to back down instead.

“I don’t set my own salary,” he said. “That is set through the TransLink board, the Mayors’ Council. I don’t set that.

“What I think is important is that we want today to talk about what the union needs to do and come back with a reasonable offer. We’ve asked them to sit down with us at mediation three different times, and they’ve refused all three times.

“The best way to stop the job action … is to get back to the table so we can actually finish this deal. That’s what commuters want.”

Click to play video: 'TransLink memo highlights how far apart sides are in transit strike'
TransLink memo highlights how far apart sides are in transit strike

Executive salaries bumped up

CMBC says it has offered maintenance trades workers a 12 per cent wage increase over four years, while transit operators were offered 10 per cent over four years. Both work out to more than the two per cent annual increase other public-sector unions have been offered under the NDP.

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The union is looking for 15 per cent increases over four years. McDaniel has said that works out to $680 million over 10 years compared to CMBC’s offer of $71 million over 10 years, which he says balances transit expansion needs with meeting some of the workers’ demands.

In July, TransLink’s board of directors and Mayors’ Council approved salary bumps for six senior executives — including McDaniel and TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond — and 12 other top-level positions, effective Jan. 1, 2019.

McDaniels’ salary now ranges from $279,818 to $372,513 per year. He was paid $121,285 in 2018, plus another $1,315 in taxable benefits, after only starting the job that May.

Desmond, meanwhile, is looking at a salary range of $406,634 to $517,443. In 2018, the CEO was paid $405,242, plus benefits and expenses.

Combined, all six senior TransLink executives are able to make a minimum of $1,679,529 annually.

Click to play video: 'TransLink executives poised to receive significant pay raises'
TransLink executives poised to receive significant pay raises

McDaniel said those salaries are set in order to be competitive with executives across Canada and around the world in order to recruit talent.

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He added that standard isn’t applied to transit operators and maintenance workers because they’re recruited locally.

“We have to be competitive in the markets where we recruit,” he said. “We’re not looking for transit operators and skilled trades outside this country [or] across the country. We will take them if they apply, of course, but we’re not marketing in those regions.”

The union has argued its members are underpaid compared to transit workers in large cities like Toronto, where it says drivers are paid about $3 more per hour.

Unifor western regional director Gavin McGarrigle said McDaniels’ comments were “hypocrisy at the highest level.”

“This is why we’re calling for a system reset,” he said. “It’s one set of rules for executives, another set of rules for the passengers and another set of rules for the workers.

“If you can’t take care of your passengers, and you can’t take care of your workers, you’re not running a very good transit system.”

Click to play video: 'Day 2 of Metro Vancouver transit strike'
Day 2 of Metro Vancouver transit strike

Mike Smith, president of Unifor local 2200 that represents maintenance workers and SeaBus operators, said his union has in fact recruited across Canada and internationally, including 25 hires from Jamaica in 2010.

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He added the union simply wants their members’ wages to be equitable to those who work for TransLink directly.

“SkyTrain employees make significantly more than Coast Mountain mechanics doing exactly the same job, and we feel that we’re entitled to that money,” he said.

Smith said the impacts on SeaBus immediately created by the overtime ban speak to a need for a system overhaul — and that includes more workers hired at fair wages.

“The company needs to understand this system cannot continue to run on overtime,” he said. “We want to hire more people, but in order to get those people, we need to pay a fair and equitable wage for trades in Vancouver.”

McDaniel said it’s common for large transit systems to have overtime built into its schedules due to “ebbs and flows” in service, but said the wage increases included in its latest offer is meant to attract more workers to cut that overtime down.

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