The mayor of Whistler, B.C., is urging the region’s unionized bus drivers and their employer to make a deal as a local transit strike for fair wages enters its seventh week.
Since BC Transit drivers in Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish hit the picket line on Jan. 28, Jack Crompton said there’s been a dangerous increase in drunk driving and people walking along the Sea to Sky Highway.
“It is an extremely unsafe place to be,” the mayor told Global News. “There’s a lot of frustration, anger. This has made life a lot more difficult for the workers and families that call this place home.
“I’m asking the union and the company to sit down and make a deal. This needs to end and it needs to end soon.”
Unifor Local 114 represents more than 80 transit workers at Whistler Transit Ltd. and Diversified Transit — a part of PWTransit Canada — who voted to strike in August of 2021. Those workers say they’re paid between $3 and $4 less per hour for the same task as bus drivers in Vancouver, and want to narrow the gap.
“We’re on strike because we’re unable to achieve a fair contract for everybody, the whole group here — pension, wages, benefits for everybody,” said Gurjit Dhaliwal, a Whistler-area driver and member of the bargaining team.
“The strike is affecting everybody — the community, the drivers and the tourists. We’re sitting out here without work, we’re trying to pay bills. We’re doing the same work so we should be receiving the same wages.”
PWTransit Canada did not respond to a request for comment on this story by deadline.
In a Feb. 25 statement, it said Whistler Transit Ltd. and Diversified Transportation met with Unifor Local 114 on Feb. 24 and proposed a deal.
The settlement offer included retroactive pay increases dating back to 2020, an increase to wages for all employees in each year of the agreement, and full benefits for all employees within the terms of the agreement.
“Unfortunately, the Union rejected the offer. They did not present a counter-proposal and declined to present the offer to their members for a vote,” it said in the statement posted to its website.
“Whistler Transit Ltd. and Diversified Transportation are disappointed in their decision and it’s the Company’s opinion that the union’s refusal to move off of their initial offer of nearly a year ago represents a lack of earnest in bargaining for a reasonable deal.”
Dhaliwal said their employer has yet to present a plan that includes a fair wage, pension plan and benefits for everybody.
Crompton, meanwhile, said Whistler is looking at options to make the highway safer and get people where they need to go.
“Nothing’s off the table for us, we’re looking at all options. We have to deal with this, it’s unsafe and it’s not serving the workers who serve this community,” he said.
The longer the strike goes on, Crompton added, the more it undermines Whistler’s efforts to increase transit ridership, achieve its emissions-friendly goals, and employ more people in the city.