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Union calls on TransLink to scrap layoffs, cuts as B.C. reopens during COVID-19

TransLink crews spray a bus with disinfectant. The transit authority says buses are now getting a weekly spray, along with regular cleaning. TransLink

The union representing a majority of Metro Vancouver transit workers wants TransLink to scrap planned layoffs and service cuts as the province begins to lift COVID-19 restrictions.

In April, TransLink issued about 1,500 layoff notices to transit workers, effective May 18.

TransLink and the regional mayors’ council have said the layoffs are necessary as the agency grapples with a pandemic-driven loss of about $75 million in monthly revenue.

But Unifor, which speaks for about 5,000 bus drivers, SeaBus operators and maintenance workers, says the plan has “brought Metro Vancouver to the brink of transit chaos.”

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“Reliable and safe public transit should be at the core of any plan to get the economy kick-started,” said Unifor national president Jerry Dias in a statement.

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“Those [layoff] notices must be rescinded immediately to help transition the Lower Mainland economy back to health.”
Click to play video: 'Metro Vancouver bus fare collection resumes June 1st'
Metro Vancouver bus fare collection resumes June 1st

TransLink has planned major service reductions, including the suspension of 41 bus routes, which will take effect on May 18, coinciding with the layoffs.

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The union says a robust transit system is necessary for essential service workers commuting to and from work, particularly as the province seeks to reopen its economy.

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It has also filed a complaint with the province’s Labour Relations Board, alleging the layoff notices didn’t meet the minimum required notice in B.C.

“TransLink is continuing to have discussions with the provincial government to ensure our transit system can support British Columbia’s Restart Plan,” said TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy.

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“We’ll also continue to put forward the case for an emergency funding package from the federal government.  TransLink is still losing approximately $75 million each month.  We reject any union claim that proper process wasn’t followed with respect to layoffs.”

Earlier this week, TransLink announced that it would resume front-door boarding and fare collection on June 1 — a measure that should add about $2 million to the organization’s monthly bottom line.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who sits on the mayors’ council, addressed transit concerns Thursday.

“I know so many people rely on this transportation, and it’s only when transit gets back to normal that our economy will get back to functioning at its full capacity,” said Stewart.

“We need help with our operating budget, we’re looking at a continual reduction of service if we don’t have help in that area.”

Click to play video: 'More possible TransLink cuts'
More possible TransLink cuts

Stewart said the federal government has been largely silent on support, but that the province has hinted there could be some assistance for the transit system.

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“But before we ramp up any service, we’d have to make sure we have the ability to do that,” he said.

In a statement, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said that it was “working with TransLink to ensure people have the service they need – both to help people get where they need to go and ensure they can respect physical distancing on transit,” but added that a national COVID-19 transit strategy is needed.

Unifor says it wants to sit down with TransLink to work out a plan to maintain the transit system, but won’t do so until the layoffs are rescinded.

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