The union representing approximately 180 workers on SkyTrain Canada Line issued a 72-hour strike notice to the employer late Friday afternoon.
BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) states this decision warning of labour action was made after four days of mediation last week, and several months of negotiations in which no major progress was made on wage parity with CUPE 7000 workers on the SkyTrain Expo and Millennium lines, operated by TransLink subsidiary BC Rapid Transit Company (BCRTC).
The Canada Line is separately privately operated under contract to Protrans BC, a division of Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
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Other outstanding issues for BCGEU entail improved sick leave and contract length. The union argues its members deserve comparable compensation given their “extraordinary efforts on the front lines” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This dispute is about frontline workers fighting for the respect and support they deserve,” said BCGEU President Stephanie Smith in a statement.
“The bottom line is our members are demanding fair compensation, meaningful sick benefits, and basic respect from their employer for the vital services they’ve provided to our communities, especially during the pandemic.”
The next bargaining date is set for Sunday, January 31. If both parties are unsuccessful with reaching a deal by 4 pm Monday, there could be labour action on this SkyTrain line as early as next week.
Due to COVID-19, ridership on the Canada Line, as of the end of November 2020, has been hovering at about 32% of its normal levels. Prior to the pandemic, it saw about 150,000 average boardings per weekday.
“Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the BC Government considers Canada Line as an essential service and we recognize passengers depend on this transit option each day,” reads a statement issued by SNC-Lavalin.
“Protrans BC remains committed to bargaining towards a fair agreement for both parties as we encourage the union to continue meeting at the table before the strike commences.”
Canada Line workers voted 98% in favour of strike action in November 2020, about a year after their contract expired at the end of December 2019.
Metro Vancouver’s public transit system was rocked by labour action in the third quarter of 2019. Escalating labour action over the course of two months culminated with the threat of a shutdown in bus and SeaBus services starting on November 27, 2019, but an early morning deal was reached between Unifor and TransLink subsidiary Coast Mountain Bus Company, just in time to cancel the planned disruptions.
About two weeks later on December 10, 2019, a last minute deal avoiding a shutdown of the Expo and Millennium lines was also reached between CUPE 7000 and BCRTC. The deal was made before 5 am, barely before the start of the day’s service.
According to documents, TransLink’s payments to SNC Lavalin for the Canada Line are largely based on performance. The criteria is as follows: 70% is based on availability (getting passengers from A to B on time, peak vehicle availability, off-peak vehicle availability, and station availability), 20% is based on service quality (providing a pleasant journey, vehicle quality, and station quality), and 10% is based on ridership volume (year-over-year ridership growth).