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SkyTrain workers announce 3-day system shutdown starting Tuesday morning

SkyTrain workers threaten 3-day full scale strike Tuesday
Unionized SkyTrain workers say if a new contract cannot be reached this weekend, their strike plans next week will include a 3-day system shutdown starting Tuesday morning. Jill Bennett reports.

Metro Vancouver’s transit riders will once again have to plan alternate transportation, as a full SkyTrain system shutdown is set to begin Tuesday morning.

The union representing 900 SkyTrain attendants and maintenance workers has announced a three-day work stoppage, with the system set to go quiet from 5 a.m., Tuesday until 5 a.m., Friday.

Saturday’s announcement marks a dramatic first stage of job action following a 72-hour strike notice issued Friday, after four days of scheduled mediation got no closer to a new contract deal.

Skytrain workers union issues 72-hour strike notice
Skytrain workers union issues 72-hour strike notice

Bargaining is continuing throughout the weekend despite the strike notice, with mediation expected to continue until Dec. 19.

“We understand that this is a massive action that will cause a great deal of inconvenience to our passengers, which is why we hope we can still reach an agreement before Tuesday morning,” CUPE 7000 president Tony Rebelo said in a statement.

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“We have been either at the table or in mediation for almost 50 days now, so it’s time to get a deal done.”

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver SkyTrain workers issue 72-hour strike notice

In its own statement, employer BC Rapid Transit Company (BCRTC) said it is “extremely disappointed” with the union’s decision.

“It is completely unacceptable the union has chosen to use the 150,000 people who use the Expo and Millennium Lines each weekday as leverage,” president Michael Ladrak said.

“BCRTC remains committed to getting a deal done. We will continue bargaining until the last moment to avoid this unnecessary and disruptive job action.”

The company said it is working with TransLink and the Coast Mountain Bus Company on securing additional bus service on existing routes, but warned SkyTrain riders to still seek alternate transportation.”

900 SkyTrain employees vote in favour of strike mandate
900 SkyTrain employees vote in favour of strike mandate

The union, which has been without a contract since the end of August, held a strike vote on Nov. 21, where members gave the leadership a 96.8 per cent strike mandate.

Any job action would not affect the Canada Line, which is operated independently of the SkyTrain system.

The announcement of a work stoppage comes two days after Unifor — the union representing 5,000 bus, SeaBus and maintenance workers — ratified a new contract with the Coast Mountain Bus Company.

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It also pales in comparison to how those workers slowly ramped up their own job action throughout November, starting with an overtime ban for maintenance workers before bus drivers also began refusing overtime.

READ MORE: SkyTrain workers union, TransLink staying silent amid mediated contract talks

It wasn’t until Unifor announced its own three-day work stoppage that a deal was finally struck — just hours before that shutdown was set to begin.

The deal brings bus and SeaBus maintenance workers’ wages on par with those working on SkyTrain.

SkyTrain workers say they are fighting for better wages, sick time and staffing levels.