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Last-minute deal averts Metro Vancouver transit system shutdown

Crisis averted in Metro Vancouver thanks to a last-minute deal reached overnight at the negotiating table. The union representing bus drivers and SeaBus workers reaching a tentative agreement with Coast Mountain Bus Company. As Sarah MacDonald reports, commuters are relieved.

A planned three-day, system-wide Metro Vancouver bus and SeaBus shutdown has been averted, after negotiators reached a last-minute deal in the region’s transit labour dispute.

Unifor Locals 111 and 2200, which represent about 5,000 Coast Mountain bus Company workers, had threatened strike action if a deal could not be reached by midnight on Tuesday.

WATCH: How will contract deal affect future expansion

How will contract deal affect future expansion
How will contract deal affect future expansion

After ten hours of negotiations, Unifor national president Jerry Dias announced a 30 minute extension of the strike deadline past midnight so that negotiations could continue.

The tentative agreement was finally announced at 12:30 a.m.

“I’m pleased to announce that Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) has reached a negotiated, tentative deal with Unifor locals 111 and 2200, which represent bus and SeaBus operators and maintenance staff,” said CMBC President Michael McDaniel.

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“As a result of this agreement, our employees will benefit from a competitive package which features improved wages, benefits, and working conditions.

“I would like to commend both parties for working together and finding common ground to end this difficult chapter for our customers, employees, and the company.  The agreement is still to go through a ratification process, which we expect will take several weeks.”

Unifor and Coast Mountain Bus Company reach tenative deal
Unifor and Coast Mountain Bus Company reach tenative deal

McDaniel adds that securing this deal means the union’s planned bus and SeaBus system shutdown will no longer proceed, nor will any further union job action.

All transit employees will report to work for their normal shifts on Wednesday.

However, McDaniel advises customers that they may still find some disruption to services Wednesday morning, given the timing of a deal being reached.

He says commuters should check transit alerts to ensure their route is operating on schedule.

“Transit workers stood up for one another and fought hard to get a fair contract,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President, in a statement.

“Total service disruption was a last resort, so our members are relieved that they can return to serving the public.”

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver transit strike: Bargaining ‘down to the wire’ as shutdown looms

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“This contract recognizes that Unifor members are the backbone of the Metro Vancouver transit system,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Western Regional Director and lead negotiator.

“We look forward to being an integral part of an expanding system that keeps this region moving.”

Details of the agreement will be made available following ratification votes happening in the coming days. The union says it expects to put the deal to members by the end of next week.

TransLink is advising commuters that it is working to restore full service, but to anticipate some delays.

You can find a current update on current delays here.

The two sides returned to the bargaining table Tuesday for the first time since talks broke down nearly two weeks ago.

Prior to Tuesdays’s negotiations, the two sides remained an estimated $150 million apart on wages.

The union was demanding better working conditions and that wages for Metro Vancouver operators be calculated in reference to what their Toronto counterparts take home.

Both sides in Metro Vancouver transit strike heading back to bargaining table
Both sides in Metro Vancouver transit strike heading back to bargaining table

CMBC had described the union’s wage demands as “unrealistic,” and promised a guaranteed 40 minutes of recovery time to address working conditions.

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Signs that a deal was possible emerged earlier Tuesday, as Unifor called Dias in to participate in the 11th-hour talks.

Dias and TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond met privately ahead of the bargaining.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver transit strike: Union, employer head to 11th-hour bargaining session

“There’s no question this can be avoided,” Dias said earlier Tuesday.

“We need to find out how we’re going to compress the gap, we need to nail down some of those working conditions. I’ve put together much more complex collective agreements than this [in] a much shorter period of time, so it’s all about desire and it’s all about a will to find a settlement.”
Potential for government intervention in transit strike
Potential for government intervention in transit strike

The deal averts a service shutdown that would have left an estimated 165,000 daily bus commuters stranded.

Transit workers had been escalating their job action for several weeks, beginning with an overtime ban for mechanics and a uniform ban for drivers, which grew to an off-day overtime strike for transit operators.

READ MORE: Transit strike Day 23: North Shore businesses suffering as SeaBus cancellations continue

The first stages of job action led to reduced bus service and the cancellation of hundreds of SeaBus sailings.

Concern over the possible shutdown sent Metro Vancouverites scrambling to prepare alternative transportation.

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Post-secondary institutions advised students to carpool, while enterprising individuals set up Facebook, NextDoor and Reddit groups to organize ridesharing.

Taxi companies said they were preparing for New Year’s Eve-level staffing, while car share companies like Evo announced plans to distribute vehicles along transit lines.