Unionized TransLink bus drivers and their employer are set to the return to the bargaining table Wednesday amid threats that the transit strike could escalate if a deal isn’t reached soon.
Unifor, the union which represents about 5,000 striking transit operators and maintenance workers, indicated Tuesday morning the union was willing to resume negotiations and talks were set to resume Wednesday.
Limited job action – involving a ban on overtime for maintenance workers – began Nov. 1. So far that has chiefly involved cancellations of some daily SeaBus sailings.
But the union also warned if a deal isn’t reached, it plans to ramp up the strike to include a ban on bus driver overtime starting Friday.
Unifor spokesman Gavin McGarrigle has warned that could shut down between 10 and 15 per cent of the bus system across Metro Vancouver.
“Disruption will continue to escalate until a full strike will occur,” said McGarrigle Tuesday. Issues in the dispute include wage increases and working conditions, specifically guaranteed breaks for bus drivers.
McGarrigle said traffic congestion and increased ridership has been squeezing out drivers’ break times, which aren’t guaranteed.
Recently that issue was highlighted in a social media post, where a photo of a bus driver “break room” in Lynn Valley appeared to show a microwave set up in close proximity to a toilet.
In a statement, TransLink spokeswoman Jill Drews said the facility is supposed to be a washroom only.
Coast Mountain Bus supervisors are “aware staff have been plugging in a microwave in the toilet area” and have “repeatedly removed the microwave, but staff keep putting it back,” she wrote. The bus company does not intend for drivers to cook food in washrooms, she added.
But McGarrigle said Tuesday bus drivers shouldn’t be blamed for installing a microwave in the bathroom if they have no other opportunity to take proper breaks for food. He added the public has not even been aware that bus drivers weren’t getting breaks.
As part of the ongoing job action, six SeaBus sailings were cancelled Tuesday afternoon and evening.
Transit drivers currently earn $32.61 per hour but want wages closer to those earned by transit operators in other major Canadian cities, which are over $35 an hour.