Metro Vancouver transit strike will start with uniform, overtime ban: union

As negotiators work to hammer out a tentative agreement ahead of the strike deadline, the union representing Metro Vancouver bus and Seabus workers has released details of what Friday’s possible strike action will look like.

If a deal isn’t reached by 8 a.m. Friday, according to Unifor, transit operators won’t wear uniforms on the job and maintenance workers will refuse overtime shifts.

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The union says this first phase of action will help raise awareness of the negotiations and union members’ need for a fair contract.

“It is a strange experience to see an operator out of uniform, and we hope that starts conversations with the passengers about our struggle with this employer to get a fair deal,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor western regional director, in a press release Thursday morning.

On Monday, Unifor locals 111 and 2200 served Coast Mountain Bus Company with a 72-hour strike notice and a deadline of midnight on Thursday. The notice was served after the transit company failed to address workers’ concerns about wages, working conditions and benefits.

Increasingly overcrowded bus trips have led to a serious understaffing issues, according to the union, and lack of proper break and recovery times for bus drivers between trips.

The union represents more than 5,000 bus drivers, Seabus operators and maintenance workers, who have been working without a contract since March 31. 

“Our number one goal is a fair contract that ensures our members are working under safe and reasonable conditions so they can best serve the public,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor national president in Thursday’s release.

“To minimize the disruption to the public while still ramping up pressure on the employer, we have chosen a measured level of strike action in the first phase.”

The union warns that, if a deal isn’t reached, an overtime ban would impact transit users and lead to fewer buses and reduced Seabus service.

“The system has normalized overtime, so without it, the turnaround for repairs and other maintenance will build up quickly,” said Mike Smith, president of Unifor Local 2200 which represents Seabus and maintenance workers.

“We trust that TransLink will not put unsafe vehicles back on the road, so it is a question of fewer vehicles available in the system.”

Contract talks are expected to continue throughout Thursday and into the evening if necessary.

In a statement released Thursday, Coast Mountain's president Michael McDaniel said it is "negotiating in good faith and has made fair and reasonable offers recognizing the vital role our employees play in the region," adding that any job action will only punish Metro Vancouver transit users who rely on the system for their daily commute. 

"CMBC has been bargaining with Unifor since August 1," said McDaniel in the statement. "When talks broke off, we asked the union to participate in third-party mediation, but they have refused.

"CMBC is now back at the table and our current offer includes significantly better wages and benefits, and addresses working conditions."

The transit company said on Monday, after the strike notice was served, that it is working with B.C. Rapid Transit Company, Transit Police and TransLink to develop a contingency plan for customers should a "worst-case scenario unfold."

If a strike takes place Friday, it will be the first time in 18 years that transit workers have walked off the job. The strike in 2001 lasted four months.

According to TransLink, a number of services would not be affected by tomorrow's strike action, including SkyTrain, Canada Line, West Coast Express, HandyDART and Vancouver Blue Bus. 

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