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Union launches legal challenge to TransLink layoffs amid COVID-19 crisis

The union representing TransLink bus drivers, SeaBus operators and maintenance workers is challenging layoffs driven by the coronavirus crisis. Sergio Magro / Global News

The union representing more than 5,000 Metro Vancouver transit workers says it is launching a legal challenge against recent layoffs.

TransLink announced Monday that 1,492 employees were temporarily let go across the company, citing financial losses of $75 million a month amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Click to play video 'TransLink makes sweeping cuts to Meto Vancouver transit workforce' TransLink makes sweeping cuts to Meto Vancouver transit workforce
TransLink makes sweeping cuts to Meto Vancouver transit workforce – Apr 20, 2020

Unifor said in a statement Thursday says it will challenge the move, saying the Coast Mountain Bus Company, a TransLink subsidiary, breached the Labour Relations Code by laying off workers without giving 60-days’ notice. The union will seek to have the layoffs rescinded, or have workers paid during the 60 days.

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TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said Monday that recent financial losses left the transit authority with no other option, adding that he expected affected employees would be recalled when regular operations resume.

Click to play video 'TransLink faces a financial crisis due to the coronavirus' TransLink faces a financial crisis due to the coronavirus
TransLink faces a financial crisis due to the coronavirus – Apr 14, 2020

In a virtual Translink Mayors’ Council meeting held Thursday, Desmond said TransLink’s projected revenue shortfall could top $680 million this year, and help is needed from senior levels of government.

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TransLink Mayors’ Council Chair Jonathan Cote said he’ll be speaking to the House of Commons finance committee via teleconference on Thursday morning to call for emergency relief from the federal government.

“As we get into the June-July period, if partnerships with the provincial and federal government are not materializing, TransLink is still losing money each month and may be forced to consider even further, more dramatic cuts,” he said.

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As for Unifor’s legal challenge, Cote says the Coast Mountain Bus Company believes it has followed the collective agreement and will respect the decision made by the labour relations board.

The union is urging its members to write to their member of parliament to demand emergency funds for public transit.

“Other critical transportation networks, such as airlines, have been granted access to federal subsidies,” Unifor Western Regional Director Gavin McGarrigle said in a statement.

“Let’s show essential services workers that we are committed to getting them to work safely and efficiently.”

Earlier this month, BC Ferries said it was rescinding temporary layoff notices “as an act of company support for our valuable employees at this uncertain time.”

About 1,400 ferry workers were laid off amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union filed a complaint of unfair labour practice.

— With files from Janet Brown and Amy Judd