A bus is pictured in downtown Vancouver, Friday, November, 1, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Union, Coast Mountain head back to the bargaining table as bus walkout looms

Bus drivers, maintenance workers say they’ll walk off the job Wednesday

Unifor has headed back to the bargaining table with the Coast Mountain Bus Company on Tuesday in hopes of striking a deal before bus service is set to shut down.

Western regional director Gavin McGarrigle said Monday they are prepared to bargain “around the clock” to reach a deal.

Meanwhile, TransLink’s CEO said 100,000 people who have no alternative to taking the bus to work in Metro Vancouver could be stranded if the strike goes ahead this week.

Kevin Desmond called on both sides in the ongoing labour dispute to return to the table to avert the “unnecessary” job action.

Speaking at the Waterfront SkyTrain Station in Vancouver Monday, Desmond said bargaining would only work if both sides came back to the table “without any preconditions.”

Unifor, which represents 5,000 bus drivers and skilled trades people working for Coast Mountain, has been engaging in job action since Nov. 1. Up till now, it’s consisted of bus drivers ditching uniforms and maintenance workers and drivers refusing overtime.

The union announced last week that if the dispute was not resolved, its members would walk off the job Wednesday and buses would not run for three days.

Desmond said 160,000 people take the bus to work every day, and 100,000 of them don’t have a driver’s licence or access to a car. In total, 350,000 take the bus every day.

“I urge the union not to punish the transit users of this region. There is still time to end this,” Desmond said.

According to Coast Mountain, which operates buses in TransLink’s system, Unifor has refused four calls for mediation.

Desmond did not call on government to intervene.

“I happen to believe in collective bargaining. The workers have a right to collectively bargain with management,” he said, noting that unions and employees under TransLink have reached many deals in the past.

At the heart of the conflict is a $150-million gap in wages between CMBC’s offer and Unifor’s demands. The company said it is offering a 12.2-per-cent raise to skilled trades people and a 9.6-per-cent raise for bus drivers, both over four years.

Unifor has asked repeatedly why CMBC does not take into account wages for Toronto transit employees when making its offers to unionized workers.

Speaking Monday, Desmond said skilled tradespeople and bus drivers are sourced locally, while transit executives are come from “very small and competitive base” around the world.

He said TransLink has been working with alternate service providers, but “you can’t replace a bus system that transports 350,000 people every day.”

Those providers include Mobi, a bike-sharing partner, carpooling services such as gobyRIDE and Liftango, and car-sharing companies like Evo and Car2Go.

SkyTrain, the Canada Line, the West Coast Express and Handy Dart are not affected, though Desmond warned they could be busier than usual.

He said SkyTrain will run extra trains and have additional staff on hand to deal with the influx.

READ MORE: SFU student starts fundraiser to hire charter bus as transit shutdown looms

READ MORE: $150M sticking point: Coast Mountain, Unifor fight over wage gap as transit lockout looms

READ MORE: What happens if Metro Vancouver bus drivers start a ‘good work’ strike?


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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