Vancouver transit strike: Union announces 3-day system shutdown
VANCOUVER – Bus and SeaBus service will come to a standstill for three days next week as striking transit workers walk the picket lines.
The system-wide shutdown is set to take place next Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, according to Gavin McGarrigle with Unifor.
”We’ve tried everything we can to avoid disruption on the passengers, but like any labour dispute at the end of the day, the power that the workers have is the power ultimately to withdraw their labour,” McGarrigle said.
No talks between the two sides are currently scheduled, but McGarrigle said the employer, Coast Mountain Bus Company, has plenty of time to avoid the shutdown.
“If they come to the table with a reasonable offer, we’ll sit down and we’ll try and get this thing done,” he said.
TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy said the work stoppage will have “a devastating impact on this region” and called it “completely unnecessary”.
“We condemn this action by the union, and we urge them to return to the bargaining table with more reasonable wage demands,” he said, adding that while TransLink is assessing how it could offset the effects of the shutdown, realistically there isn’t much the transit authority can do.
The latest round of contract talks between the two sides broke down last week, with compensation remaining a key sticking point. Unifor wants Coast Mountain Bus Company to consider a wage comparison to Toronto bus drivers and SkyTrain maintenance workers: a difference, they say, of about $3 per hour.
The company says their wage offer of a 9.6 per cent increase for drivers and a 12 per cent increase for tradespeople is already in excess of other public sector settlements.
Job action began Nov. 1, with bus drivers not wearing uniforms and maintenance workers not working overtime. Recently, bus drivers began refusing overtime on set days, as well. There have been SeaBus sailing cancellations and bus service cancellations on some routes as a result.
Murphy raised the idea of mediation, something he said the union has refused. Previously, Unifor has said it doesn’t think a mediator would be helpful at this point.
“We have reached the point now where there is a $150 million gap in wages, and that needs to be resolved, quickly,” Murphy said.
McGarrigle said the ball is in the employer’s court when it comes to a return to bargaining.
“What we’re clearly signalling is that the patience of workers is at an end, and it’s time for them to stop blaming the workers and come to the table with a fair offer,” he said.
The union is also planning to hold a rally outside the TransLink headquarters in New Westminster next Thursday at 1 p.m.
A planned driver overtime ban will continue this Friday.
As for whether the full service shutdowns will continue after next week, Unifor said it will probably make a decision sometime next weekend.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Alyse Kotyk and Sheila Scott