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Transit job action, strike possible as early as Friday

Last Updated Oct 29, 2019 at 11:45 am PDT

(Photo credit: Dustin Godfrey for NEWS 1130)

The unions that represent Coast Mountain Bus Company drivers says talks have deteriorated

If a 'fair deal' is not reached by Thursday at midnight, legal strike action could be considered

Earlier this month, 99 per cent of employees voted in favour of strike action

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Coast Mountain bus drivers have issued a 72-hour strike notice that could result in job action by Friday morning.

Unifor Locals 111 and 2200, which represent Coast Mountain Bus Company drivers and SeaBus workers, say talks have deteriorated and if a fair deal is not reached by 12:01 a.m. on Friday, legal strike action will be considered.

Unifor Union Leader Gavin McGarrigle says some kind of action is the only answer.

“We’re not entirely sure what that [action] is. We’re certainly focused on not impacting the passengers as much as possible, but we are prepared to escalate to reach a fair deal,” he says. “One option we can rule out at this stage is a full work stoppage,” he says. “But we have options in front of us, including work-to-rule, rotating strike – not a full-scale stoppage at this point.”

Online, those who rely on transit to get to work and school are asking what they’re supposed to do if drivers walk off the job, and wondering why transit is not an essential service. One person commented on social media lamenting that without a driver’s license or a bike, they’re facing the prospect of a 90-minute walk to get to class and back each day.

Sylvia Ceacero with the Simon Fraser University Student Society is meeting with the university Tuesday afternoon to figure out how to limit disruption to students if the strike goes ahead. She says both students and staff are worried.

“We can pick people up in their homes and car-share and all of that so that we can all be at work in the least disruptive way, but for students – we’re talking about moving thousands of people up and down the mountain, and that’s very complex,” she says, adding students are nervous.

“Many of them have part-time jobs and they need to get to those as well, so it’s not only affecting how they get to campus but how they get around to other commitments that they have.”

Despite the concerns of a disruption to service, some on social media are standing with the transit workers, arguing their demands are reasonable and concessions like less overcrowding on buses and more drivers would be good for everyone.

The union says the failure of Coast Mountain Bus Company to address working conditions, wages, and benefits during negotiations led to the notice.

Talks between Unifor and Coast Mountain Bus Company have been ongoing for three months. The union says the employer has not shown respect for the difficult working conditions faced by bus drivers on a daily basis.

“Unifor’s bargaining committees are prepared to stay at the table all week to reach a deal,” McGarrigle says.

While he’s not saying what the job action would look like, he says it could include rolling strikes or doing the bare minimum required by the workers’ contract.

Earlier this month, 99 per cent of employees voted in favour of strike action, and have been working under the old contract since March.

RELATED: People with disabilities, homeless ‘scared and nervous’ in face of transit strike

“It’s not hard to understand what is happening here. The company is showing little respect for the difficult working conditions that our members must face every day,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President, in a release.

This is the first time in over 18 years these unions have issued a strike notice. The last, in 2001, lasted for four months.

TransLink says it is working on a robust contingency plan for a worst-case scenario.

“Since August 1, Coast Mountain Bus Company has been working hard to renew its agreement with the union representing its bus and SeaBus operators and maintenance staff,” TransLink says in a statement, adding the company has seen unprecedented growth in the last three years.

“CMBC sees the conditions our bus and SeaBus operators, as well as its customers, face,” it continues. “CMBC remains committed to reaching an acceptable negotiated settlement and is ready to return to the bargaining table as soon as possible.”

B.C. Labour Minister ‘optimistic’ a deal will be reached

Meanwhile, B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains says the provincial government is not planning on interfering in the potential strike.

“The last thing that the parties would need is the government and third parties even giving a hint of interfering in free collective bargaining,” he says. “I will not do that. We’re not there. It’s a hypothetical question. I am encouraging both sides to resolve their differences so that there is no disruption.”

Bains adds he’s optimistic an agreement will be reached.

“I would allow the free collective bargaining to mature and, hopefully, both parties will have an agreement before disruption.”

With files from Kathryn Tindale, Taran Parmar and Sonia Aslam