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Bus cancellations possible by end of week as Metro Vancouver job action enters day 5: union

Last Updated Nov 5, 2019 at 2:20 pm PDT

FILE - Commuters board a 44 bus in downtown Vancouver on Nov. 1, 2019. (Source: Monika Gul/NEWS 1130)

A labour relations expert says the government isn't intervening because that could stop transit negotiations altogether

If an agreement isn't met, the union says there could be bus cancellations by the end of the week

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s likely only a matter of time before bus trips start getting cancelled as Metro Vancouver’s transit strike continues. And even though the province could keep that from happening, a labour relations expert says there are very good reasons why it doesn’t intervene.

There have already been dozens of SeaBus sailing cancellations, incuding six on Tuesday, and now the union representing striking transit workers says the buses could be next if no deal with Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) is reached.

Gavin McGarrigle with Unifor says those who live in Port Coquitlam could see the biggest impact of reduced bus service first, according to the maintenance team.

“Port Coquitlam has always had a tough time, so that’s what the folks are telling me, that they think if things are going the way they’re going now, they’ll probably, most likely, show up in the Port Coquitlam area first,” he says.

“That could change if the company re-allocates things but that’s where we think that might show up first.”

McGarrigle says it’s very likely there will be impacts by the end of the week, but they could start as early as Wednesday.

“We could start to see some impact by as early as tomorrow, probably – most definitely – by the end of the week and it’ll just continue to ramp up from there.”

While the province does have the power to bring down the hammer and end the strike, so far, it has remained silent.

Mark Thompson is a professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia with decades of labour relations experience.

He says regardless of a government’s political leanings, stepping into a labour dispute is never something lawmakers want to do.

“I’ve never heard of legislatures that really look forward to it, because somebody’s going to get mad at them,” he says. “And you’d really rather not have that, if you can help it.”

Thompson says in these early days when the job action hasn’t been majorly disruptive, the Minister of Labour is content to keep a close eye on the developments.

“There’s a real risk that if he intervenes quickly, then one or more of the parties will just stop negotiating and they’ll wait around to get a better deal.”

An overtime ban by Unifor maintenance staff began Friday, and bus drivers have been refusing to wear uniforms. The union is now considering an overtime ban for bus operators, which could result in thousands of bus trip cancellations.

BCAA, which runs Evo Car Share, says it’s preparing for the cancellation by increasing staffing at the Evo call centre, and putting more cars near SkyTrain station and busy travel corridors.

During the 2001 transit strike, it took four months of no bus service whatsoever before legislation was passed to get them running again.

Talks between Unifor and CMBC, which operates Metro Vancouver transit services on behalf of TransLink, broke off last week, leading to job action by roughly 5,000 Unifor transit drivers, SeaBus operators and mechanics.

The two sides are currently not at the bargaining table, five days into the job action, and no further talks are scheduled.

The union has a 99 per cent strike mandate backing demands for approximately $608 million in improved wages, benefits and working conditions over the next 10 years.

With files from the Canadian Press and Alison Bailey