Negotiations between SkyTrain employer and union continue

Nov 27 2019, 1:41 pm

Metro Vancouver’s transitpocalypse fears were extinguished at approximately 12:30 am Wednesday, when TransLink subsidiary Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) and Unifor reached an eleventh-hour agreement that cancelled the plan to escalate bus and SeaBus service disruptions.

But is not over yet, as the public transit authority still has to contend with the emerging labour dispute with CUPE 7000, representing the workers of SkyTrain’s Expo Line and Millennium Line.

SkyTrain workers, numbering approximately 900 people, voted 96.8% in favour of job action last week. CUPE 7000 is taking issue with similar concerns including wages, staffing levels, forced overtime, and the sick plan, as well as overcrowding on the system from rapidly growing ridership.

No labour action has been declared for the Expo Line and Millennium Line, but if the union decides on this avenue, it is required to provide 72 hours’ notice. The union has agreed to mediation.

Over the past weekend, the union resumed negotiations with BC Rapid Transit Company (BCRTC), the TransLink subsidiary that operates both of these SkyTrain lines.

According to TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy, mediation continued on Monday, and both parties are set to return to the table on Thursday. There are currently eight mediation sessions scheduled.

It is unclear how the tentative agreement reached with Unifor for bus and SeaBus workers could impact the bargaining and mediation for SkyTrain workers, nor is it clear how any potential disruptions to SkyTrain service could look like if talks fall apart again.

Labour action that begins with a full service shutdown of the Expo Line and Millennium Line is highly unlikely, but in such a worst-case scenario, TransLink would likely respond with an attempt to deliver a shuttle bus bridge service on a scale that has never been seen in the region. This is not to say that a fleet of buses can replicate the sheer ridership volumes of the Expo Line and Millennium Line.

In 2018, the Expo Line and Millennium Line systems saw a combined 348,000 boardings on an average weekday, 242,000 boardings on an average Saturday, and 186,000 boardings on an average Sunday and holiday.

BCRTC also has the West Coast Express under its mandate, but it is not affected by the labour dispute as its operations are contracted to Bombardier.

The Canada Line, also deemed by TransLink as a SkyTrain line, is unaffected as well, as it is privately operated by ProTransBC, a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin, under a contract that expires in 2040.

Approximately 150 workers with the Canada Line are represented by the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU). In January 2015, Canada Line workers voted 99% in favour of labour action, after being without a contract since December 2013, but a strike was averted after both sides were able to come to an agreement shortly after the vote.