Concerns are growing over a potential public transit strike in the Central Okanagan.
“I won’t be able to get to school, really, because I take the bus every day,” said Skyler Peters.
Talks between the employer, First Transit and the union, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) local 1722, broke off last week.
The union, which represents 240 workers, many of them bus drivers, then issued a 72-hour strike notice on Monday.
With that notice now expired, the unionized workers are in a legal position to strike.
“We will be starting job action tomorrow, ” said Al Peressini, president of ATU local 1722. “We will stop wearing company-issued uniforms.”
Peressini told Global News Thursday that the employer and union were still “miles apart” on key issues, including wages and benefits, indicating that a full-blown strike could be unavoidable.
“We are hoping it doesn’t get to that but if it does, we will be giving the public and media plenty of notice,” Peressini said.
“That’s the last thing we want to do, is impact or hurt our riders.”
A strike would impact bus service right across the Central Okanagan from Peachland all the way to Lake Country.
“The mayors of the Central Okanagan Regional District as well as Westbank, First Nation, have written a letter to our provincial Minister of Labour…for him to intervene,” said Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran.
“If there is labour action taken, to either mandate negotiations or mediation, to keep both sides at the table but as well as to make sure that there isn’t a service disruption because this would be devastating for a lot of people in our community.”
The City of Kelowna is putting contingency plans in place including the idea of a phone line that residents could call for alternative options or information on reduced cab fares for those eligible.
It’s also hoping electric mobility companies can help fill the gap should a strike occur.
“We’ve talked to the mobility companies lime and scooter, can they redeploy some of their devices closer to where we’re anticipating a lot more need the university, college,” said Mac Logan, general manager of infrastructure with the City of Kelowna. “So we’ve identified, sort of, here are the busiest bus stops.”
For people with mobility issues who rely on the HandyDART service, there was at least some good news Thursday.
“There has been a ruling that part of the service that HandyDART provides will be considered essential,” Logan said. “So medical appointments, particularly dialysis, cancer treatments, things like that…so there will be limited service provided to those customers”
In addition to bus drivers, the union also represents technicians, office staff, service people and road supervisors.