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Metro Vancouver bus strike: Union says talks have broken off the day before planned job action

VANCOUVER – Less than 24 hours before planned job action was set to take place if no deal was struck, the union representing Metro Vancouver’s bus and SeaBus drivers says talks have broken off.

Friday morning, Unifor said that if an agreement wasn’t settled by 8 a.m. on Nov. 1, transit operators wouldn’t wear uniforms on the job and maintenance workers will refuse overtime shifts. 

Shortly before 12:30 p.m., the union said talks had broken down.  

“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 continued Thursday and Coast Mountain Bus Company said it’s urging the union to hold off on job action until a deal is struck.

“If the union proceeds with job action, it will only punish transit users in Metro Vancouver, many of whom rely on our system for their daily commute,” CMBC president Michael McDaniel said in a statement.

“Without maintenance over time, we will see bus and SeaBus service cancellations, affecting customers.” 

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.”

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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