VANCOUVER — The union representing almost 5,000 Metro Vancouver transit employees has announced a three-day shutdown of bus service next week as British Columbia's labour minister urges both sides to return to the bargaining table.
Unifor spokesman Gavin McGarrigle said job action against Coast Mountain Bus Company, which handles transit on behalf of TransLink, follows an overtime ban by mechanics and drivers and means buses will remain parked next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
"No members of Unifor Local 111 and 2200 will report for work on those days," he said. "Picketing will begin at all locations and we expect a complete shutdown of the Metro Vancouver bus system as a result."
He said picket captains are being trained and will ensure peaceful protests during the three days, adding the union will host a public rally against TransLink at the company's headquarters in New Westminster next Thursday, the same day the TransLink Mayors' Council is scheduled to meet there.
"We have been saying since the start of this dispute that TransLink is unaccountable to the public," McGarrigle said Wednesday.
He said that while the union supports a 10-year plan to expand transit the company is doing it "on the workers' backs."
Bus drivers, SeaBus operators and mechanics launched limited strike action Nov. 1 starting with an overtime ban by mechanics, but that was expanded to add bus drivers when talks broke off last week.
McGarrigle said while the dispute is having a significant impact on passengers the blame lies with TransLink as workers fight for a better contract for themselves and a less-crowded transit system for those who depend on it.
Coast Mountain called for a mediator last week as talks collapsed but Unifor argued the company is not serious about moving forward so a third party's involvement won't help with issues including wages, benefits and working conditions.
"How did things get so bad with driver rest time that microwaves are being installed in bathrooms and a simple, minimum break becomes a bargaining issue held over the workers' heads?"
Coast Mountain said in a statement that the union is leaving hundreds of thousands of customers without service while it refuses to accept a historic contract offer.
"It is completely unacceptable our customers are being dragged into this dispute," company president Michael McDaniel said in the release.
"Coast Mountain Bus Company is addressing the union's complaints about working conditions as well as providing generous wage increases beyond what's in other public-sector settlements in British Columbia," he said.
The offer includes guaranteed recovery time to ensure drivers can rest, along with a wage increase of about $6,100 over the next four years, amounting to an annual salary of $69,000.
The annual wage for skilled-trades workers would go up by about $10,000 over four years, bringing their yearly earnings to $88,000, the company said in a statement.
Labour Minister Harry Bains said a lack of bus service will be disruptive for passengers so it's up to Unifor and the company to ensure they make efforts to negotiate a new contract.
"It is very difficult news for everyone who uses transit every day to go to work and to fulfil their responsibility in their daily lives," he said.
"I think they need to look at the inconvenience to the public, their customers, and make sure that the deal will be made. The deal will be made at the bargaining table, not anywhere else."
The union has called on universities and colleges to accommodate students during the work stoppage.
Matthew Ramsey, a media spokesman for the University of British Columbia, said about 80,000 people take a bus to and from the Vancouver campus every day.
"A thousand buses a day flow through UBC's transit hubs so obviously a disruption of service would be of great concern to our community," he said, adding students, faculty and staff are being encouraged to car pool or cycle.
"We know that a lot of our students come from far afield and we understand that they're concerned about how they're going to get to and from this campus," he said.
The university has posted a map of pick-up and drop-off areas on its website but Ramsey cautioned people to obey traffic directions to prevent congestion.
Students should speak to their instructors or academic advisers to determine their options around accommodations, Ramsey said, adding discussions are underway at the university to potentially expand concessions.
This story by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2019.