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Bargaining stalemate continues as Metro Vancouver transit strike further disrupts service

Last Updated Nov 11, 2019 at 12:26 pm PDT

(Dustin Godfrey, NEWS1130 Photo)

Working conditions, pay, and benefits are the main sticking points and the union has no plan to return to the table

The bus company argues its offer is fair and includes wage increases of about 10 per cent over the next four years

The union says there are no plans to escalate job action and no plan to engage in mediation

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — On day three of a transit worker strike in Metro Vancouver, the union says they have no plan to resume talks before Monday morning’s commute.

Working conditions, pay, and benefits are the main sticking points with the union claiming the bus company is failing to address issues while the bus company argues its current offer is fair and includes wage increases of about 10 per cent over the next four years.

Job action began Friday and so far has meant bus drivers are not wearing uniforms and maintenance are crews refusing overtime.

Riders have seen longer waits for the SeaBus but there has not been large- scale service disruption.

Unifor’s Gavin McGarrigle says SeaBus cancellations say a lot about how much TransLink depends on maintenance workers who are no longer willing to work overtime.

“It shows you they’ve really cut the system to the bone and it reinforces what we’re saying. There’s not enough time to do anything and so, everything is run on a just-in-time basis. If the basis for expansion is that you’re going to run a system were passengers are packed in like sardines, and it’s okay to run on overtime for maintenance — then you’ve got a fundamental problem.”

RELATED: Multiple SeaBus sailings cancelled Sunday due to transit job action

McGarrigle says the union is prepared to escalate job action, which could include work stoppage.

“There is no question that ultimately the end point for this is going to be a complete shut down of the entire system and our members are prepared to stay out, six months, nine months of the year. As long as it takes,” McGarrigle says.

“These issues are not going away, not this time.”

Meantime, Coast Mountain Bus Company President Michael McDaniel says every system this size depends on some overtime being worked.

“It’s actually pretty common to build some overtime into a regular schedule. It helps control for the ebb and flows of different parts of the season, different days of the week,” he says. “We look at working conditions all the time. Whether that’s the recovery time, whether that’s overtime ratios. If we need to continue to look at that, we obviously will make sure that our ratios of how much overtime we build into the system is appropriate.”

McDaniel says the union needs to come back to the bargaining table before service disruptions get worse.

“We spend a lot of time each day making sure that we put all the service on the road that we have planned and any service disruption is unacceptable, so anything that either continues as is or gets escalated would be unacceptable to us.”

He maintains the offer on the table is fair, saying they came to the table with a relatively generous deal.

“That offer is in excess of what the rest of the public sector in British Columbia is getting,” he says, adding the union demands will cost too much.

Taxpayer watchdog blames bosses

The B.C. Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Kris Sims, says highly-paid transit bosses in Metro Vancouver are not good managers if they have to rely on overtime to make sure standard service is not disrupted.

“That means they’re always trying to burn the candle from both ends. Are they actually scheduling and cutting things that fine, so that they’re constantly relying on overtime? That’s management and management needs to do better.”

She says while worker wages are at the heart of this dispute, bosses salaries deserve more scrutiny.

“And what really sounds unreasonable is to have management throwing up their hands and saying, ‘Oh well, these demands that the union is making will automatically eat up all of the money that we already jacked up on taxpayers in order to pay for Phase 2.’ When the rank and file bus driver, who isn’t able to take a lunch break looks up and sees what their CEO is making, they’re going to have some rankling.”

She adds TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond, who already makes more money than transit bosses in Montreal and Toronto, is on track to make more than his counterpart in the city of New York.

Desmond’s salary in 2018 was around $450,000 while his counterpart in Toronto earned around $350,000.