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

Passengers embark a SkyTrain in Vancouver. Simon Little / Global News

Metro Vancouver’s transit labour dispute could be about to get worse.

The union representing about 900 SkyTrain workers says negotiations have broken down with BC Rapid Transit Company, the TransLink subsidiary that runs the SkyTrain system.

The company is operated separately from the Coast Mountain Bus Company, which is currently locked in a contract dispute with bus drivers, SeaBus operators and maintenance workers.

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READ MORE: Metro Vancouver transit strike: 2 sides return to bargaining table

In a statement issued Wednesday, CUPE Local 7000 said the union has been without a contract since Aug. 31, and that negotiations had been ongoing since the beginning of May.

However, it said bargaining had reached an “impasse” Tuesday night over wages, sick time, staffing levels and forced overtime, and opened the door to possible job action.

Click to play video 'Preview of Metro Vancouver transit dispute Day 12' Preview of Metro Vancouver transit dispute Day 12
Preview of Metro Vancouver transit dispute Day 12 – Nov 11, 2019

“Some of the issues that are still key issues to our members have not been addressed, and we need them addressed. We need the company to come back the take those issues seriously for us to get to a fair deal,” CUPE 7000 president Tony Rebelo told CKNW’s The Simi Sara Show.

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“We are at an impasse, and now moving forward we’re taking the information to our members and seeking direction from them.”

Rebelo couldn’t say if talking to members would result in a strike vote.

“That being said, we still are apart on many issues. But it’s going to come down to the member’s decision.”

Rebelo said meetings with the membership were scheduled for Thursday and Monday.

In a statement, BC Rapid Transit Company president Michel Ladrak said he wanted to see a negotiated solution.

“We remain committed to the bargaining process and have suggested the parties take part in mediation to help resolve the current issues,” said Ladrak.

“The offer we have put forward aligns with public sector settlements in British Columbia today.  We are open to further discussing what has been offered and urge the union to continue negotiating with us.”

B.C. Perrier John Horgan weighed in on the dispute Wednesday, saying he’s optimistic a deal can be reached through negotiation.

“I’m always concerned when there’s a prospect of removal of services for the public, people have an expectation, particularly when it comes to transit in the Lower Mainland that they’re going to be able to access the services they need to move around, but I also am a firm believer in collective bargaining,” said Horgan.

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However, Horgan said the Canadian and global economies were beginning to slow down, and that workers need to be prepared to bargain based on governments’ fiscal realities.

“I think we need to be mindful of all of that as we go into negotiations for public employees, and for those that represent public services I think they recognize that as well,” Horgan said.

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

The SkyTrain system has been insulated from the region’s ongoing transit worker job action to this point. If there was job action, it would not affect the Canada Line, which is operated separately by a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin under a 31-year public-private-partnership (P3) deal.

Transit workers employed by the Coast Mountain Bus Company and represented by Unifor have been taking job action for nearly two weeks, with an overtime ban for maintenance workers and a uniform ban for drivers.

Unifor and the CMBC returned to the bargaining table after a nearly two-week break on Wednesday, but the union has threatened to escalate job action if no deal is reached by Friday.