Nov. 1 update: Bus, SeaBus operators start job action in Metro Vancouver

VANCOUVER – Less than 24 hours before planned job action was set to take place if no deal was struck, the union representing Metro Vancouver's bus and SeaBus drivers says talks have broken off.

Thursday morning, Unifor said that if an agreement wasn't settled by 8 a.m. on Nov. 1, transit operators wouldn't wear uniforms on the job and maintenance workers will refuse overtime shifts.

Shortly before 12:30 p.m., the union said talks had broken down.

"Unfortunately it became very clear that we're going to have to commit strike action tomorrow," said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor western regional director and lead negotiator, after the talks ended.

"Minutes before we sat down with the company they were already putting out a press release saying we were trying to punish transit users, which of course is the last thing that we want to do."

McGarrigle claimed Coast Mountain Bus Company didn't adequately address wages or competitive issues within the company.

"Most importantly, they made no changes at all to the working condition language that had already been rejected by the union. That working condition language that they tabled means that no transit operator has a guaranteed minimum level of break time on any given shift."

If a deal isn't struck soon, McGarrigle said transit users will start to feel the impact.

"Transit users will see maintenance and SeaBus overtime ban commence, that will have a very quick impact on the service," he said.

"The transit system is much, much bigger than it was in 2001. A lot of people rely on transit. So if there is impact, we think it will be substantially worse than in 2001. It may not happen right away, but it very quickly could be a significant inconvenience to the public."

Ahead of contract talks on Thursday, CMBC urged the union to hold off on job action until a deal is struck.

"If the union proceeds with job action, it will only punish transit users in Metro Vancouver, many of whom rely on our system for their daily commute," CMBC president Michael McDaniel said in a statement.

"Without maintenance overtime, we will see bus and SeaBus service cancellations, affecting customers."

Speaking after the union's announcement that it would go forward with its job action, McDaniel told reporters the effects on transit users on Friday will be hard to predict. The overtime ban means that if a bus breaks down and there are no mechanics available to fix it during their regular hours, the bus will not be fixed, he said.

"There will be service cancellations, and while the effects will vary across the region, we will do our best to communicate all of those service disruptions through our many communication channels," McDaniel said.

The CMBC president also addressed the terms of its offer to the union, arguing that workers' concerns about wage competitiveness and break times are addressed within the employer's proposal.

"We've been negotiating in good faith with the union for 29 days," McDaniel said. "We've made many reasonable offers."

Among those offers are a 12-per-cent pay increase over four years for mechanics and a 10-per-cent increase over four years for bus drivers, as well as additional "recovery time" for drivers, McDaniel said.

Earlier this month, Unifor Local 111 voted 99 per cent in favour of striking after months of contract negotiations broke down on Oct. 3.

When the 72-hour strike notice was announced, McGarrigle told CTV News Vancouver there continues to be issues over wages, benefits and working conditions for bus drivers.

"They need to have time to go to the washroom, have a bite to eat, just simply reset themselves and they aren’t having the time to do that," McGarrigle said. "We need to make sure wages are fair and competitive and make sure generally they are respected by the company."

Unifor also said overcrowding on buses is also leading to safety concerns.

"It has an impact on their mental health," McGarrigle said. "When the passengers are feeling they are being passed up, when the drivers are being overworked eventually something's gotta give."

Before Unifor announced its plans, TransLink said it would use social media and its website to let transit users know if the system was going to be disrupted.

"It's important to note that only bus and SeaBus service is going to be affected by any job action Unifor undertakes," said Jill Drews, a spokesperson for TransLink on Wednesday.

The last time bus drivers walked off in Metro Vancouver was in 2001. That strike lasted four months.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Sheila Scott