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Metro Vancouver transit dispute: Service remains normal through weekend

The transit dispute is now into its second week with warnings that job action is only going to escalate. We chat with Coast Mountain Bus Company President Michael McDaniel about what the company is doing to try to mitigate disruptions to commuters.

Metro Vancouver transit riders were breathing sighs of relief as bus and SeaBus service returned to normal for the long weekend amid ongoing transit worker job action.

As of Sunday morning, no routes or sailings were impacted by the maintenance overtime ban that has been in place for nine days now, along with a uniform ban for bus and SeaBus operators. Saturday also saw no service interruptions due to the job action.

TransLink does have a long list of bus route alerts due to maintenance and other issues, but the transit authority has confirmed none of them are related to the job action.

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

Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) president Michael McDaniel said Saturday the transit system runs at a reduced capacity on weekends, ideally leaving it enough wiggle room to prevent any cancellations until Tuesday.

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“Come Tuesday we’ll be back to the workweek, so we’ll be telling commuters to pay attention to all the channels we have, primarily transit alerts but also Twitter,” he said. “We’ll keep people as up to speed as we can on what those service disruptions are.”

The break comes after Friday saw headaches for commuters, who faced service reductions on at least 25 bus routes and 16 SeaBus sailing cancellations.

The union representing bus drivers, SeaBus operators and maintenance workers said there were more than 60 route segments affected.

More service affected by overtime ban as transit strike continues
More service affected by overtime ban as transit strike continues

SkyTrain is not affected by the contract dispute.

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McDaniel said with more disruptions looming, the union is being urged to return to the negotiating table.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver transit dispute day 8 — Trip cancellations reported across bus system

“We formally did invite them a couple days ago now. That has not been met with a positive response yet,” he said.

“But we’re hopeful that at some point they’ll come back. We want to talk to them about a number of things, but primarily on the working conditions that they’ve said is one of their top priorities.”

The union has repeatedly said bus operators feel stretched by the overcrowded transit system, and want minimum breaks built into their contract along with an increase in wages.

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

McDaniel said addressing concerns over working conditions is “complicated,” but insisted the company still wants to work through the issues and come up with a solution.

“We have some new ideas on how to do it, but we need a conversation to be able to do that,” he said. “As we’ve said, we haven’t finished bargaining. We need to finish bargaining. Nothing is off the table.”

Unifor western director Gavin McGarrigle said Friday the union will be happy to head back to the table as soon as the company tells them they’re prepared to talk about working conditions, but so far that hasn’t happened.

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Focus BC: November 8, 2019
Focus BC: November 8, 2019
“Instead what they’re doing is [going] out there blaming the workers and really not addressing the key issues,” he said.

“We’re not interested in games. We’re interested in serious negotiations to talk about, why is it that SkyTrain skilled trades workers are paid more than Coast Mountain? … Why is it that Toronto transit operators are paid almost $3 more?”

CMBC says meeting the union’s wage demands would cost the company $680 million across 10 years. The union has called for a 15 per cent wage increase over four years.

The company’s latest counter-offer provides $71 million across 10 years, calling it “fiscally responsible.” McDaniel said Saturday that offer is not their final one, and is prepared to draw up new proposals through bargaining.

Transit strike forces several bus cancellations, union wants to discuss wages
Transit strike forces several bus cancellations, union wants to discuss wages

McGarrigle has said any further job action won’t happen until after Remembrance Day. He said the next step would likely be an overtime ban for bus operators, which he predicted would immediately eliminate 10 to 15 per cent of service across the region.

Any escalation would come with 24 to 48 hours notice, he said.

Earlier this week, B.C. Premier John Horgan said the province would not intervene in the dispute, but he vowed Thursday he wouldn’t let the strike drag on for months like in 2001.

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