Negotiations break down between Metro Vancouver bus drivers, employer as strike looms

Unifor members will be able to legally pursue job action as of midnight Friday

Negotiations between the union representing 5,000 bus drivers, SeaBus operators and maintenance workers in Metro Vancouver have broke off with their employer, Coast Mountain Bus Company.

In a news conference Thursday afternoon in New Westminster, Unifor locals 111 and 2200 said they left the bargaining table after the employer would not budge on wages or working conditions after 29 days of talks.

“We’re prepared to be patient,” said Unifor western regional director Gavin McGarrigle, warning that limited job action could continue for more than a year.

“It will slowly but surely ramp up until we reach a full work disruption.”

Plans could include reduced fare collection and go all the way up to an eventual full work stoppage.

“We know from statistics that congestion is getting worse and worse,” McGarrigle said, saying ridership has gone up 18 per cent since 2018, and an increasing number of passengers are needing help to physically board the bus.

“What’s happening is that they’re pulling into the bus loops, they’re trying to meet the schedule [but] there’s not enough time,” McGarrigle said.

“We’re talking two to three minutes to go to the washroom or to just have a break.”

Union members issued a 72-hour strike notice earlier this week and are scheduled to begin job action as of midnight Friday. Bus drivers are set to ditch their uniforms in favour of regular clothes and maintenance workers to refuse overtime, starting at 8 a.m.

At their Surrey headquarters, Coast Mountain Bus Company president Michael McDaniel said the offer on the table was reasonable, despite Unifor’s move to walk away.

“Maintenance trades would see a wage increases of more than 12 per cent over four years. Transit operators would see wage increases of nearly 10 per cent,” McDaniel said, adding the benefits package and working conditions have been improved, specifically targeting recovery time.

McGarrigle said he wanted wages brought in line with those in the Greater Toronto Area – something McDaniel said was not realistic.

“All wages follow competition in the market that you’re in,” he said. “We don’t recruit transit operators and mechanics from the Toronto region.”

If Friday’s job action goes ahead, McDaniel said, there will be disruptions.

“While the effects will vary across the region, we will do our best to communicate all those service disruptions to our users,” he said.

READ MORE: Transit strike would target uniforms, overtime for maintenance workers

READ MORE: Possible transit strike looming in Vancouver as routes overburdened

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