Transit strike averted, union hopes to vote on new contract within 10 days
VANCOUVER -- The details are still a secret, but a tentative agreement struck by the transit workers' union and their employer early Wednesday morning will likely be voted on by union members within the next seven to 10 days, according to Unifor.
The 11th hour deal meant a planned full shutdown of bus and SeaBus service for three days was narrowly avoided. The agreement came after more than 10 hours of negotiations at a Vancouver hotel, with both sides emerging to share the news just before 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy said it was a "marathon session."
"It was fast-moving. The momentum built throughout the afternoon and into the evening, and particularly in those final few hours, it was intense. It was an intense negotiation," said Murphy, who added he believed both parties went into talks focussed on making a deal.
Unifor’s western regional director, Gavin McGarrigle, said the union did not accept the offer that the company had previously had on the table, and added "there was a lot of movement."
"We proved that free and fair collective bargaining works, and as we’ve been saying all along, direct negotiations was the way to get it done, at the table when both sides were serious," McGarrigle said.
Wages were a major sticking point the last time talks broke down between both sides two weeks ago.
The union said the company wasn’t willing to consider a wage comparison with Toronto bus drivers and SkyTrain maintenance workers, which is a difference of about $3 per hour. The company said their offer of a 9.6 per cent raise for bus drivers and a 12 per cent increase for tradespeople already exceeded other public sector settlements. It’s unclear exactly how much their positions may have shifted on either side to be able to find common ground within that $150-million wage gap. TransLink has said there are no expected changes to transit expansion plans at this stage.
Another notable difference from previous talks was the presence of Jerry Dias, Unifor’s national president, who also met with TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond prior to the start of Tuesday’s negotiations. Tom Knight, a professor of human resources and industrial relations with UBC’s Sauder School of Business, called Dias’s involvement "relatively unusual."
"I think that he saw the need to strike a balance between squeezing as hard as we can and keeping the riding public on side," Knight said.
In the meantime, talks are continuing in the SkyTrain workers' labour dispute, with mediation scheduled well into December. So far, there is no job action planned.