Union not ruling out full strike as bus, SeaBus operators start job action in Metro Vancouver
VANCOUVER – Bus and SeaBus operators in Metro Vancouver started job action Friday morning, after contract negotiations broke off Thursday.
Unifor, which represents the workers, said transit operators would begin the first phase of job action by not wearing wear uniforms and maintenance workers will refuse overtime shifts.
At Braid Station in New Westminster Friday morning most bus operators were dressed casually as they picked up and dropped off passengers.
"They are going to see buses being driven by people not in uniform, which is a strange thing, and should send the message that not all is well at Coast Mountain Bus Company," Gavin McGarrigle with Unifor told CTV News Vancouver.
SeaBus passengers will be the first to feel service disruptions. In fact, TransLink announced 14 sailings would be cancelled Friday afternoon, with more expected over the weekend.
Those cancellations are because an engineer is required to be on board, McGarrigle said.
"A lot of that is run on overtime, so the minute they stop doing the overtime, that's going to have an immediate impact," he said.
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, which could cause delays and cancellations and have a ripple effect across the transit system.
"The longer it goes on, there will be a significant disruption," McGarrigle said.
During a news conference Friday, Mike McDaniel, president of CMBC urged the union to continue talks.
"The best way to stop service disruption is to get back to the table and negotiate a responsible deal," he said.
McDaniel said CMBC felt they had brought a fair offer to the bargaining table and that adding more would "compromise future growth" across the entire transit system.
Part of the offer is a wage increase of more than 12 per cent over four years, and a 9.6 per cent raise for operators over the same time period.
But McGarrigle said it's not enough and talks between the union and CMBC broke down around noon Thursday.
"They're really not addressing the concerns we are raising about competitive wages with SkyTrain and places like Toronto," McGarrigle said. "If they want to simply play games and blame transit operators then we are going to continue our job action."
If a deal isn't struck soon, McGarrigle said transit users will start to feel the impact increase.
"Inevitably we will continue to ramp up and every single day the maintenance ban goes, there will be more and more impact to service. And eventually, as we say we are giving plenty of notice this could end up in a complete shut down, and we don’t want to go there."
He says the union will continue to notify passengers if job action escalates.
The last time bus drivers were involved in a strike in Metro Vancouver was in 2001. That lasted four months.