Sea to Sky drivers to return to work, ending record-breaking B.C. transit strike

FILE. Summerland is offering free fares on buses starting this Earth Day, and continuing for a year. Global News

BC Transit workers in the Sea-to-Sky region are heading back to work, ending what their union describes as the longest transit strike in the province’s history.

More than 80 members of Unifor Local 114 have been picketing since Jan. 29, citing unfair wages.

On Tuesday, they ratified a new agreement with their employers — Whistler Transit Ltd. and Diversified Transit, which are part of PWTransit Canada.

“We were successful at closing an unacceptable wage inequality between transit workers in Vancouver and the Sea to Sky region,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor western regional director, in a news release.

“Local 114 members are eager to return to serving the communities of Squamish, Whistler, and Pemberton.”

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The new five-year collective agreement, retroactive to April 2020, was reached with help from a mediator. It includes wage increases of 1.5, two, three, three and four per cent annually, for a total bump of 13.5 per cent by 2024.

It also includes a hiring bonus of two per cent for 2022, full benefits for part-time workers, and a new defined pension plan. The standout achievement, however, is a one-time cost-of-living adjustment, according to McGarrigle.

The lump sum will be paid in 2024 if the B.C. Monthly Consumer Price Index over three years exceeds the average annual wage increases established in the agreement.

“At the end of the day, I think this dispute has shown the importance of regional transit to the area, I think it’s shown that it’s underfunded,” McGarrigle told Global News.

Click to play video: 'Talks resume between Whistler-area transit workers and employer'
Talks resume between Whistler-area transit workers and employer

Talks between Whistler Transit Ltd., Diversified Transportation and Unifor broke down multiple times during the months-long strike, which wreaked havoc on the region’s commuters, according to Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton.

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Last month, the company said it was “stunned and extremely disappointed” that Unifor members had rejected a deal unanimously recommended to them by their bargaining committee. At the time, it said it had presented its “best, last, and final offer” — an offer that included the same annual wage increases, signing bonus, and defined benefit pension plan.

The prolonged stalemate eventually led the mediator to bring in a letter of understanding between the two parties, which included the cost-of-living stipulation. It was “more than could be offered in negotiations,” but PWTransit said Tuesday it will abide by the terms of the letter.

In its statement, the company also quoted analysis from the mediator, who found “no compelling reason” to alter the wage increases and signing bonuses, which “meet and exceed” those covered under collective agreements negotiated in other sectors in B.C.

The BC Transit workers have signed a return-to-work protocol with the employer, and could be back in buses as early as this weekend.

Editor’s Note: This story was corrected from a previous version, which incorrectly stated the action was the longest strike in the province’s history. It was, in fact, the longest transit strike. 

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