NEW WESTMINSTER (NEWS 1130) – In an effort to avoid a three-day full-service strike this week, the union representing transit workers and Coast Mountain Bus Company are returning to the bargaining table Tuesday.
Unifor lead negotiator Gavin McGarrigle confirmed the new development at a news conference Monday just after noon.
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He says if they don’t reach a deal by Wednesday, they will follow-through on a full strike and start picketing, stopping all bus trips and SeaBus sailings Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
“I remain pessimistic that [Coast Mountain Bus Company has] got the message, but the pressure on them is building, they’re putting out service alerts right now, and we are going back to the table, hoping for a fair deal, but preparing for the worst,” McGarrigle says.
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The union has argued the wages offered aren’t comparable to wages for transit workers in other Canadian cities, although TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond has said they are based on market conditions.
Transit workers have been escalating job action since Nov. 1 when contract negotiations fell apart. Drivers are refusing to wear uniforms, and SeaBus and maintenance workers are refusing overtime.
McGarrigle says the union has done everything it can to avoid escalating to this level, but hope an agreement can be reached.
“We are going back to the table out of respect for the passengers that we serve, out of respect for the workers that need to get to work, and out of respect for the students that need to get to school,” He says.
Students, disability advocates, and even motorists could be impacted if no deal is reached, and plans for a full shutdown go ahead.
Union lobs criticism at TransLink Mayors’ Council
McGarrigle used Monday’s announcement to go on the offensive against the Mayors’ Council at TransLink, calling on them to pressure TransLink executives on getting a good deal for transit workers.
“For all the mayors out there, the ones who stay strangely silent while their citizens are affected by this dispute: it’s time for the mayors to take back control of TransLink and make sure that they are accountable to the citizens that they serve,” he says.
Meantime, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart is still holding out hope a full-scale strike can be avoided now that contract talks are back on.
Stewart says that, if it doesn’t happen, easing traffic congestion by letting all commuters travel in HOV lanes is not likely.
“We first don’t have jurisdiction over those lanes outside of our city, so we’re really every other organization that operates in the city, thinking about our own employees. We just have to work together to make it the best possible system we can.”
Stewart says many of the city’s more than ten thousand employees depend on transit, so they’re also anxious for a deal to be reached before Wednesday.
– With files from the Canadian Press, Lasia Kretzel, Peter Wagner and Martin MacMahon