Metro Vancouver’s transit workers have voted to approve a new contract agreement with Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC), officially bringing a weeks-long job dispute to an end.
The deal was ratified with 84.3 per cent of roughly 5,000 union members voting in favour of the deal, which was struck in the 11th hour ahead of a planned work stoppage that would have stranded thousands of transit users.
Unifor Western Regional Director Gavin McGarrigle said after the vote that members of Unifor 111 and 2200 were “very happy” with the agreement, which brings wages closer to Toronto transit and to parity with SkyTrain workers.
“We think this is a historic collective agreement, and there are many, many more changes our members are happy about,” he said.
“We couldn’t have done this without the members of the public and students who stood by us. Thank you to all of you.”
CMBC president Michael McDaniel said the agreement was ratified by the company’s board Wednesday.
“Today’s vote ends a challenging period for the company, our employees, and customers,” McDaniel said.
“Our hard-working and dedicated employees will benefit from a balanced and competitive package which improves wages, benefits, and working conditions.”
Under the three-year agreement, bus drivers, SeaBus operators and maintenance workers will get a retroactive two-per cent pay bump for work dating back from Dec. 5, 2019 to April 1, 2020.
Drivers will then get a one per cent raise for work up until April 1, 2020, while maintenance workers will see their pay rise by $1.95 per hour to achieve parity with SkyTrain maintenance workers.
After that, operators will see a three-per cent raise in each of the next two years. Maintenance workers will earn two per cent raises each of those years, also achieving parity with SkyTrain.
The deal features increases in health benefits, including vision care and psychological counselling. Shift premiums will also see increases.
As for working conditions — one of the key sticking points in the dispute — operators will get a minimum five-minute break at the end of each trip, effective April 2020.
Each run will have scheduled recovery time, including rest time, that will be distributed evenly.
A minimum 30 minutes of “actual” recovery time will be included in each operator shift starting June 2020, increasing to 45 minutes per shift in January 2021. On that date, any worker who misses any of that recovery time can claim 200 per cent of their hourly rate for all missed minutes.
Finally, operators will be allowed to request washroom breaks at any time, which cannot be refused or penalized.
The deal was reached two weeks ago after 10 hours of negotiations that stretched past midnight, when workers had planned to walk off the job for three days.
The planned work stoppage was the latest escalation in job action that began on Nov. 1, when maintenance workers began refusing overtime and operators ditched their uniforms.
The overtime ban resulted in daily SeaBus sailing cancellations and occasional disruptions to bus service, as vehicles began breaking down and replacements were put on the roads.
The union later escalated to semi-daily overtime bans for bus and SeaBus operators, which saw bus service dwindle by 10 to 15 per cent with several route cancellations.
The threat of a work stoppage prompted university students and other regular transit users to organize carpools and explore other options to get around.
Prior to returning to the bargaining table a day before the work stoppage was set to begin, 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.
CMBC had described the union’s wage demands as “unrealistic,” and promised a guaranteed 40 minutes of recovery time to address working conditions.
The deal averts a service shutdown that would have left an estimated 165,000 daily bus commuters stranded.
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.
The union representing the region’s SkyTrain workers, meanwhile, is in the middle of a mediated contract negotiation with their employer, BC Rapid Transit Company.
The eight days of scheduled mediation, which kicked off last week, are set to wrap up on Dec. 19.
If no deal is reached by then, the union has threatened job action could begin shortly afterwards. Members voted 96.8 per cent in favour of strike action last month.
— With files from Simon Little