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Metro Vancouver transit strike to escalate Friday as talks break down

A Metro Vancouver bus driver works out of uniform as a part of ongoing job action. .
A Metro Vancouver bus driver works out of uniform as a part of ongoing job action. . Global News / Simon Little

Bad news for Metro Vancouver commuters: job action by bus drivers will escalate on Friday.

The news comes after Unifor, the union representing 5,000 bus drivers, SeaBus operators and maintenance workers, said talks with the Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) broke down Thursday morning.

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Metro Vancouver transit strike set to escalate as talks break down
Metro Vancouver transit strike set to escalate as talks break down

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.

“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.”

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

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

CMBC says the wage gap between what employers are offering and what 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,” said CMBC president Michael McDaniel, adding that the company had offered drivers a guaranteed 40 minutes of recovery time in every shift.

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

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.

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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.”

McGarrigle said that given how far the two parties are from one another, there was no further point in talking on Thursday, and that a bus driver overtime ban would begin Friday morning.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver transit dispute sees more SeaBus sailings cancelled on Remembrance Day

He added that in addition to Friday, bus drivers will refuse overtime next week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

McDaniel estimated that the overtime ban would result in about a 10 per cent disruption in service, which TransLink confirmed later Thursday.

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

It is unclear when the two sides may return to the bargaining table.

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Workers have been without a contract since the end of March.

The overtime ban action is expected to create significant delays and disruptions as buses are pulled from service.

TransLink has warned that an overtime ban for maintenance workers is already causing some reduction in service on bus routes.

Ten SeaBus cancellations were also in place on Thursday:

  • Waterfront Station: 4:25 p.m., 5:15 p.m., 6:15 p.m., 7:46 p.m., 9:01 p.m.
  • Lonsdale Quay: 4:10 p.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7:32 p.m., 8:47 p.m.

You can see a detailed list of service disruptions here.

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Bargaining with SkyTrain workers break down
Bargaining with SkyTrain workers break down

SkyTrain workers’ dispute

Meanwhile, labour unrest on the SkyTrain system, which has so far been unaffected by the contract dispute, is also escalating.

CUPE Local 7000, which represents some 900 SkyTrain workers, said contract talks broke down with the BC Rapid Transit Company (BCRTC) on Tuesday, after six months of negotiations.

“There’s no plans in disruptions right now or the near future. Right now, our plan is is we’re going to our members, we’re having information meetings tonight and on Monday … and we’re going to seek direction from our members,” said CUPE Local 7000 president Tony Rebelo, who said the goal was to get a deal without any service disruption.

However, he added that he couldn’t rule out job action.

“If the members are wanting that, we will go forward with a strike vote,” he said.

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

Staffing levels, wages and “forced overtime” are among the union’s key complaints.

BCRTC said it remains committed to the bargaining process, and has suggested the dispute go to a mediator.

On Wednesday, B.C. Premier John Horgan was asked about growing public sector labour unrest in the province.

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Along with the transit system, negotiations with teachers have stalled and faculty at the University of Northern British Columbia and Saanich school support workers have walked off the job.

Negotiations resume in Metro Vancouver transit dispute
Negotiations resume in Metro Vancouver transit dispute

“We’re in an extraordinary time. Hundreds of thousands of employees’ contracts all came due at the same time and as a new government we’re methodically going through that,” Horgan said.

“I appreciate that there are examples of disruption or potential disruption, but if you look at the overwhelming labour relations profile that we’ve seen in the past number of months we’ve seen successes and I’m confident that free collective bargaining will prevail.”

Horgan has previously said he will not let the transit dispute escalate into a full-fledged, four-month strike, as seen in 2001.