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With more transit deals up in Vancouver this year, should it be made an essential service?

Last Updated Dec 10, 2019 at 3:39 pm PST

FILE: A bus is pictured in downtown Vancouver, Friday, November, 1, 2019. A transit strike remains in the air as talks between Vancouver bus drivers and their employee break down. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Labour expert Mark Thompson says collective bargaining is stressful - but it works

Thompson says without the high stakes, the two sides wouldn't come to an agreement

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Those who rely on transit let out a collective sigh of relief on Tuesday with a tentative SkyTrain deal made and the strike dodged seemingly right in the nick of time.

But with more transit deals left to be done at the end of the year, some are wondering if collective bargaining is the best way to solve these disputes – especially when so many depend on the service.

Labour expert Mark Thompson says that all the chaos is a necessary evil, even when a resolution doesn’t come until the eleventh hour.

“I thought the system worked as it should. The system works best when the parties feel that each has something to lose by not settling,” he says, acknowledging it is stressful all round.

RELATED: Metro Vancouver commuters relieved SkyTrain strike averted

“The alternatives aren’t very attractive. If we don’t have a really messy dispute, then there’s not much incentive to tackle those alternatives.”

One of the alternatives would be making transit an essential service, something floated by many during the Coast Mountain Bus Company workers union’s job action last month, and again during SkyTrain negotiations.

Thompson says that idea fails to account both for the complexities of fulfilling it and for the successes of collective bargaining.

“The parties were certainly aware of the impact that their actions could have on, essentially, innocent members of the public, people just going to work, and the union set a strike deadline. That focused everybody’s attention and they did the job,” he says.

One of the last Metro Vancouver transit deals to be worked out is the contract for the Canada Line workers’ union, the BCGEU, which is up at the end of this month.