VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Transit workers in Metro Vancouver have begun labour disruptions following the breakdown of contract talks and the union is warning that commuters could feel the effects very quickly.
Commuters started seeing bus drivers out of uniform at 8 a.m. on Friday morning and by 10 a.m., 14 SeaBus sailings had already been cancelled.
Unifor, which represents the workers, says it hopes the uniform ban will start conversations with those riding the bus about the struggle to get a fair deal.
It’s hoping an overtime ban by maintenance workers will gradually increase pressure on the system, quickly lead to fewer buses on the roads and continue to hinder SeaBus service. But that’s just the beginning.
.@TransLink staff initially told us this is not related to labour dispute, but more than one fare box has been covered. Checking with @UniforTheUnion to see if some bus drivers are acting without directive/permission from union leaders? #transit @NEWS1130 https://t.co/lIBhgxFfiz
— Marcella Bernardo (@Bernardo1130) November 1, 2019
TransLink’s Jill Drew says commuters can expect even more delays.
“We do have some reserve buses and we can use those, but you know, eventually, we’re going to start seeing buses that need maintenance and we’re going to be seeing the fleets shrink and that’s going to mean cancellations,” she says.
The union’s chief negotiator, Gavin McGarrigle, says the overtime ban could have a big impact on SeaBus service between Vancouver and North Vancouver by the afternoon rush, which could reduce sailings to a single vessel.
He says if the dispute drags on, buses requiring maintenance will likely have to be taken off the streets, further reducing service.
RELATED: Job action set for Friday after talks break down between Metro Vancouver transit union, bus company
Some bus drivers have even been covering up their fare boxes, letting passengers ride for free. McGarrigle says that action is not coming from the union.
“[There’s] no official position from the union on trying to cover fare boxes, and we’ll follow up where we find out that drivers are doing that to make sure they’re following the prescribed action, just re-enforce the message that we’re focused on,” he says.
Earlier this month, more than 5,000 members of Unifor locals 111 and 2200, representing bus drivers, SeaBus and maintenance staff, voted 99 per cent in favour of job action against Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC), which operates on behalf of TransLink.
As bus drivers, SeaBus operators and maintenance workers prepare for job action after talks broke down yesterday, @TransLink is calling on @UniforTheUnion to return to the bargaining table. More details on @NEWS1130. pic.twitter.com/wNT6J42I52
— Amanda Wawryk (@AmandaWawryk) November 1, 2019
The two parties have been trying to reach a new contract for months, and on Thursday talks broke down, with the union accusing the bus company of refusing to make any significant offers.
A statement issued Friday by Mike McDaniel, president of CMBC says the cost of meeting the union demands is too high.
“New analysis shows that union demands would amount to more than half-a-billion dollars over 10-years. This is funding that would otherwise be used for transit improvement and expansion. Our current offer on the table is fair and reasonable, exceeding public sector settlements in British Columbia,” McDaniel says.
CMBC is also saying the union has “repeatedly” refused to come back to the bargaining table with a third-party mediator.
Working conditions, pay, and benefits are the main sticking points in negotiation, and the union says without progress or offers it will escalate job action in the days and weeks to come, adding they have refused mediation because their position is clear.
SkyTrain, West Coast Express and HandyDART will not be impacted by the job action.