SkyTrain's workers union says contract negotiations have broken down

Nov 13 2019, 2:16 pm

TransLink has another emerging labour dispute to contend with, as the union representing 900 workers with SkyTrain’s Expo Line and Millennium Line left the contract negotiating table on Tuesday.

In a release, CUPE 7000 says its negotiations with BC Rapid Transit Company (BCRTC), the TransLink subsidiary that operates the Expo and Millennium lines, “have reached impasse” after over 40 sessions at the bargaining table since the start of May.

The contract for their members expired at the end of August of this year.

“The Company has failed to offer fair wages or address the sick plan, inadequate staffing levels, forced overtime, and other issues important to our members,” said CUPE 7000 President Tony Rebelo in a statement issued today.

“We have been more than proactive and flexible in trying to reach solutions to improve the service, but the employer’s latest package failed to address the key issues. They are simply not interested in bargaining seriously, so we’re left with little choice but to go to our members and seek direction for next steps.”

CUPE 7000 represents the SkyTrain workers who are attendants and control operators, as well as administration, maintenance, and technical staff.

Like the rest of the transit system, ridership on the Expo and Millennium lines has soared in recent years; there were 111.3 million boardings on both lines in 2018, up from 93.9 million in 2016, representing a two-year increase of about 19%. Average weekday boardings in 2018 were 348,000, up from 308,000 in 2016. Saturday ridership also saw a significant increase, with the average boardings on this day increasing from 202,700 in 2016 to 242,300 in 2018.

A $210-million order of 56 new Mark III cars (14 four-car articulated trains, each holding up to 532 passengers) for the Expo and Millennium lines is expected to fully arrive by the end of 2019 to help deal with rising demand resulting in overcrowding. A number of these trains have already entered service, and when all of the new trains are fully operational, SkyTrain’s capacity on the Expo Line and Millennium Line will rise by 10% and 23%, respectively.

No strike vote for SkyTrain workers has been called by CUPE 7000 at this time.

“Following six months of negotiation and an offer being presented to CUPE 7000 by BCRTC, the union has declared an impasse in negotiations. They have advised that they will be holding a meeting with their members to discuss their next steps,” said Michel Ladrak, the president of BCRTC.

“We remain committed to the bargaining process and have suggested the parties take part in mediation to help resolve the current issues.  The offer we have put forward aligns with public sector settlements in British Columbia today.  We are open to further discussing what has been offered and urge the union to continue negotiating with us.”

BCRTC’s responsibilities also include the West Coast Express, but the commuter rail service is unaffected as it is operated and maintained by Bombardier under contract.

The Canada Line is unaffected as well, as this SkyTrain line is privately operated by ProTransBC, a division of SNC Lavalin, under an agreement with TransLink that ends 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.

This of course comes as the labour strike of 5,000 bus and SeaBus workers with TransLink subsidiary Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) enters its 13th day, with disruptions to bus services expected to escalate over the coming days and weeks. Over the past two weeks, as many as 20 SeaBus sailings were cancelled in a single day due to the overtime ban on onboard engineers.

Unifor began its labour action on November 1 with a ban on uniforms and maintenance overtime. The union is seeking improved wages, benefits, and working conditions.

Negotiations broke down on October 31, but both Unifor and CMBC returned to bargaining this morning.

“Coast Mountain Bus Company remains optimistic that we can find common ground with the union and work toward an agreement which satisfies both parties. While our current offer is in excess of public sector settlements in British Columbia today, we are open to improving our overall proposal at the bargaining table. This includes building on the proposal we’ve already put forward to improve working conditions,” said Michael McDaniel, president of CMBC, in a statement today.

“The message we’ve heard from our customers and employees is abundantly clear, they want both parties to find a solution which brings an end to job action. We know that compromise by both sides will be necessary to reach a deal.  Further job action will continue to disrupt service and affect tens of thousands of transit users.”

Unifor and CMBC are $608 million apart in what they are willing to accept, with CMBC offering wage increases of approximately 10% and 12% for bus drivers and maintenance workers, respectively, over four years.

In contrast, the union sees a fair and reasonable deal for its workers is about 15.3% for bus drivers and 16.7% for maintenance workers over the same period, but this is also compounded and front loaded.

Over 10 years, the union plan will cost $680 million, while CMBC’s plan will cost $71 million.