Transit job action in Metro Vancouver is about to get worse.
The union representing 5,000 bus, SeaBus and maintenance workers says it will initiate a system-wide shutdown on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday next week.
The union says workers will return to work on Saturday Nov. 30.
“No members of Unifor Local 111 and 2200 will report for work on those days, picketing will begin at all locations, and we expect a complete shutdown of the bus system in Metro Vancouver as a result,” said Unifor western director Gavin McGarrigle.
“There will be no further escalation in action following the current overtime ban already set for this Friday until next Wednesday, Nov. 27.”
The shutdown would not affect SkyTrain or Canada Line service, as both are operated independently from the bus system.
The union has also scheduled a rally outside TransLink headquarters for next Thursday.
“There is a full week before any work stoppage takes place,” said McGarrigle.
“There is still time to avoid this work stoppage, this is the time that the mayors, the province, the TransLink board needs to figure out how they’re going to treat the workers fairly, and if they come to the table with a reasonable offer, we’ll sit down and try and get this thing done.”
In a statement, CMBC president Mike McDaniel called the union’s actions “completely unacceptable.”
“It is completely unacceptable our customers are being dragged into this dispute,” wrote McDaniel.
“Coast Mountain Bus Company is addressing the union’s complaints about working conditions as well as providing generous wage increases beyond what’s in other public sector settlements in British Columbia. The union is willing to disrupt lives of commuters to get the wages it wants.”
McDaniel went on to warn that accepting bus drivers’ demands would result in either increased fares or cuts to planned service expansions.
The action is the latest escalation in the contract dispute between Unifor locals 111 and 2200 and TransLink subsidiary Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC).
Bus drivers were also refusing overtime Wednesday, meaning bus service disruptions on top of those already piling up due to a three-week-old overtime ban for maintenance workers.
Several major routes, including the 95 B-Line to SFU, were reporting multiple trip cancellations.
“We are seeing some cancellations this morning out of Richmond and Surrey in particular, a few less in Vancouver as compared to previous days, but around five to 10 per cent impact,” said TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy.
“Our message is the same as it has been for several days now, the union needs to be more realistic in its wage demands.”
There were no SeaBus cancellations Wednesday.
There has been no scheduled resumption of contract talks since bargaining broke down last Thursday, but Unifor maintains CMBC is not offering enough improvement on wages.
The union says drivers’ compensation should be assessed in comparison to Toronto transit operators, while mechanics’ pay scale should reflect what SkyTrain mechanics are paid.
The union has also complained about working conditions, saying drivers need more recovery time and guaranteed breaks.
TransLink says the two sides remain about $150 million apart on the wage issue, but says its offer of a $6,000 pay hike for bus drivers and a $10,000 hike for maintenance workers exceeds other public sector settlements.
Labour Minister Harry Bains issued a statement Wednesday calling the strike “difficult news.”
“We strongly urge both sides to get back to discussions at the bargaining table – that’s where solutions and a fair deal will be found,” he said.
“They have successfully bargained numerous collective agreements together without any outside involvement. It’s our expectation that they will be able to do so again.”
Workers have been without a contract since the end of March.
SkyTrain dispute could escalate
Meanwhile, CUPE Local 7000, which represents about 900 workers that operate the region’s SkyTrain system, has called a strike vote.
SkyTrain workers have been without a contract since the end of August, and are demanding improved staffing levels, wage increases and a better sick plan.
Union members began voting Tuesday and are expected to finish on Thursday, with the results to be announced soon afterward.
Union president Tony Reblo refused to speculate on what form job action could take, if approved by members.
“The one thing I want to let our passengers know is that our goal is still to get a deal at the table without any type of service disruption. That’s our goal,” said Reblo.
The union and TransLink subsidiary BC Rapid Transit Company (BCRTC) are scheduled to begin eight days of mediation on Nov. 28.
“Everyone remains optimistic that some of those differences can be worked out with the help of a mediator,” said TransLink’s Murphy.
“The mediator there is actually the same mediator who resolved the bargaining situation last time. So we remain pretty optimistic on that front.”
If SkyTrain workers do begin job action, it will not affect the Canada Line, which is operated independently.