Good news for Metro Vancouver commuters: unionized SkyTrain workers and their employer have cut a tentative agreement, meaning trains will run Tuesday.
CUPE 7000, which represents 900 SkyTrain workers, had threatened to walk off the job at 5 a.m. Tuesday for three days if they couldn’t reach a deal with TransLink subsidiary the BC Rapid Transity Company (BCRTC).
That proved to be unnecessary as the two sides reached a breakthrough after a marathon 18-hour bargaining session, just minutes before the strike would have taken effect.
CUPE 7000 president Tony Rebelo acknowledged that there would be some SkyTrain delays Tuesday morning as the system got up to speed, but things should be back to normal ahead of the afternoon commute.
“It’s been a very long night for myself and the rest of our crew behind me and we are glad that we were able to come to an agreement. The details of the agreement will not be released until we have a ratification vote with our members.”
Earlier Monday, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond had expressed hope that the breakthrough would come before the Monday night deadline.
“We have fine workers representing our SkyTrain operation at CUPE 7000,” said Desmond.
“I’m sure they all just want to be at work tomorrow. I believe that both sides in good faith can come together and find a deal that is mutually acceptable, affordable from our standpoint, and otherwise acceptable to the workers.”
SkyTrain workers have been without a contract since Aug. 31, and Rebelo had expressed frustration with the length of time it took to get a deal earlier Monday.
“We’ve been now bargaining for almost 50 days, and that’s including mediation, and the union calls that unacceptable,” said Rebelo.
“We could have had a deal done a lot sooner.”
The two sides had been bargaining all weekend, with talks stretching until 1 a.m. Sunday and resuming Monday.
The deal averts what would likely have been major commuter chaos in the region. TransLink estimates the SkyTrain system moves 150,000 people every day, and Desmond said projections suggested an additional 15,000 cars on the road in the case of a strike.
Buses, SeaBuses and the West Coast Express would likely have met with significant crowding as well, as TransLink said “operational constraints and labour considerations” meant it would be unable to add extra buses on the roads.
CUPE 7000 had said it was fighting for better wages, sick time and staffing levels, and against “forced overtime” requirements proposed by the employer.
The tentative deal comes nearly two weeks after a region-wide bus system shutdown was averted by a similar last-minute deal.
“It has been a tough period, no doubt about that,” TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy said of recent negotiations.
“In both instances we have managed to find deals. Yes, there has been some job disruption along the way, particularly with the bus system, but we’ve reached agreements and now we can move forward.”
A ratification vote is expected to take place in the next couple of weeks.
— With files from Jennifer Palma