Fraser Valley bus drivers issue strike notice, could stop fare collection Thursday

After bargaining talks broke down between First Transit workers and B.C. Transit, a full-scale walkout is planned for Monday. Any last-minute agreement is unlikely. Global News

Bus drivers in B.C.’s Fraser Valley have issued 72-hour strike notice and could start job action as early as Thursday.

CUPE Local 561 said Monday it had issued notice to First Transit, the BC Transit contractor that operates buses in Chilliwack, Abbotsford and the surrounding region.

“People see BC Transit on the side of our busses and think our members are getting the same wages as other BC Transit workers — we are not,” CUPE 561 president Jane Gibbons said in a media release.

Read more: ‘Strike averted’ but bus service in Kelowna suspended for the day

“Our members make significantly less than transit workers across the Lower Mainland, with no pension plan and long hours of standby time for which they receive less than $3 per hour.”

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The union said the American-based contractor operates both conventional transit buses and HandyDART service in the Fraser Valley.

Click to play video: 'Buses will return to streets of Kelowna after strike averted'
Buses will return to streets of Kelowna after strike averted

The two sides have been bargaining since spring 2022, with wages a key sticking point. The union argues its members earn 32 per cent less than other Lower Mainland transit workers.

The union, which represents 213 members including drivers, utility workers, bus washers and mechanics, said it has engaged in 20 days of bargaining to date.

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

The union said it will be in a legal strike position starting 3 p.m. on Thursday, “at which point drivers will stop collecting fares.”

It said it will escalate job action later in February with two days of full service withdrawal on Feb. 27 and Feb. 28, excluding HandyDART, if a deal can’t be reached.

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In a statement, First Transit said it had presented an offer to transit workers which would “see a significant increase in full-time benefits-eligible positions, and structural improvements intended to provide operators with better work-life balance, while providing enhanced reliability of service for customers, to keep up with the growth of Abbotsford, Chilliwack and the surrounding communities.”

The company said its goal remained to reach a fair collective agreement, and that it hoped the union would focus on “constructive negotiations.”

It added that it would do its best to ensure regular operations continued, and that there was an essential services agreement in place to “ensure that residents in Abbotsford and Chilliwack continue to have essential transit service,” should job action escalate.

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