Metro Vancouver bus strike: Action to start with uniform, overtime ban

VANCOUVER – The union representing Metro Vancouver’s bus and SeaBus drivers has announced what possible strike action will look like on Friday if a tentative agreement is not reached by their deadline.

According to Unifor, if an agreement isn’t settled by 8 a.m. on Nov. 1, transit operators won’t wear uniforms on the job and maintenance workers will refuse overtime shifts. 

“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 a news 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.”

Unifor says they think this first phase will increase exposure to negotiations.

“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 and lead negotiator during the talks.

But if a deal isn’t reached, a ban on overtime could start to impact transit users, Unifor has warned. 

“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 representing maintenance and SeaBus 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 Thursday. 

Earlier this month, Unifor Local 111 voted 99 per cent in favour of striking after months of contract negotiations broke down on Oct. 3.

When the 72-hour strike notice was announced, McGarrigle told CTV News Vancouver there continues to be issues over wages, benefits and working conditions for bus drivers.

“They need to have time to go to the washroom, have a bite to eat, just simply reset themselves and they aren’t having the time to do that,” McGarrigle said. “We need to make sure wages are fair and competitive and make sure generally they are respected by the company.”

Unifor also said overcrowding on buses is also leading to safety concerns.

“It has an impact on their mental health,” McGarrigle said. “When the passengers are feeling they are being passed up, when the drivers are being overworked eventually something’s gotta give.”

Earlier in the week Coast Mountain Bus Company said in a statement it remains committed to “reaching an acceptable negotiated settlement and is ready to return to the bargaining table as soon as possible.”

Before Unifor announced its plans, TransLink said it would use social media and its website to let transit users know if the system was going to be disrupted.

“It’s important to note that only bus SeaBus service is going to be affected by any job action Unifor undertakes,” said Jill Drews, a spokesperson for TransLink on Wednesday. 

The last time bus drivers walked off in Metro Vancouver was in 2001. That strike lasted four months. 

With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Sheila Scott  

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