If TransLink’s Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) and the union representing bus and SeaBus workers are unable to come back to the table with an agreement by Thursday night, Metro Vancouver transit riders could be inconvenienced by job action as early as Friday morning.
- See also:
Unifor provided TransLink and transit riders yesterday with a 72-hour strike notice, after negotiations broke down between both parties. This was a follow up to an October 10 vote when 99% of union members voted for job action.
The exact form of the job action has yet to be determined, but the union says it could range between a work-to-rule or rolling strike action. A full-blown strike resulting in a complete shutdown of conventional bus, community shuttle bus, and SeaBus services is not expected at this time.
“Unifor’s bargaining committees are prepared to stay at the table all week to reach a deal,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor Western Regional Director and lead negotiator, in a statement. “The company’s lack of movement leaves us little choice but to set a strike deadline.”
Unifor states its members have not had a contract since the end of March, and CMBC indicates it has been working to renew its agreement with the union since the start of August
A key issue for the union centres on wages and benefits, in the backdrop of an increasingly stressful and demanding work environment as a result of “a serious understaffing issue” and overcrowding.
Overall systemwide transit ridership soared by 18% between 2016 and 2018, and overcrowding on bus trips specifically went up by 36% during the same period.
As of February 2019, this is how much bus drivers earned before tax:
- Conventional bus drivers
- Starting at $22.83 per hour during 30-day training period
- $24.46 per hour for the first eight-month period (equivalent to $50,877 annually)
- $26.09 per hour for the second eight-month period (equivalent to $54,267 annually)
- $29.35 per hour for the third eight-month period (equivalent to $61,048 annually)
- Ceiling of $32.61 per hour after 24 months of employment (equivalent to $67,829 annually)
- Community shuttle bus drivers
- Starting at $19.62 during a 10-day training period
- $20.87 per hour for the first eight-month period (equivalent to $43,410 annually)
- $23.48 per hour for the second eight-month period (equivalent to $48,838 annually)
- Ceiling of $26.09 per hour after 16 months of employment (equivalent to $54,267 annually)
Conventional bus drivers, operating routes that use the larger and busier 40-ft-long and 60-ft-long buses, also receive a number of benefits including medical, dental, and vision, with the option of family and domestic partner coverage. They also have paid vacation, a pension plan, and a bus pass for themselves and a family member.
These drivers can expect a guaranteed 37.5 hours of work per week in various shifts, from early straight shifts (4:30 am to noon), mid-day run shifts (from mid-day to early evening), owl shifts (late evening to early morning), and split shifts (four hours in the morning, break, then four additional hours in the evening).
Benefits for operating the smaller and less busy community shuttle buses entail a 14% top-up above the hourly rate in lieu of benefits for those starting as a casual, an employee bus pass, and flexible scheduling. For drivers who take on part-time regular (20 to 30 hours per week) or full-time regular (minimum 35 hours per week) community shuttle positions, they will begin to receive similar benefits as conventional driers.
The base salaries for both conventional bus drivers and community shuttle bus drivers are above the 2019 living wage in Metro Vancouver of $19.50 per hour, comprised of wages and non-mandatory benefits.
The living wage calculation by the Living Wage for Families Campaign is the hourly amount a family needs to cover basic expenses, based on a two-parent family with two children with each parent working full-time.
But the dispute also stretches beyond salaries and benefits, as it includes working conditions, such as the need for stable and predictable breaks for drivers during and between shifts.
It was no coincidence that TransLink released an in-depth report last week on bus delays largely as a result of traffic congestion and less-than-optimal municipal road designs, highlighting that rising delays are taking up the dedicated time workers have to eat and go to the washroom.
TransLink has taken on some physical infrastructure measures, leasing washroom space or even washroom trailers for bus drivers at major bus exchanges. Most recently, its new UBC bus exchange facility opened with a dedicated lounge space and washroom for bus drivers, instead of requiring bus drivers to scurry to the nearest UBC campus building with public facilities during their breaks.
Workplace safety remains a major issue for bus drivers, and some steps have been taken to address those concerns, including the gradual rollout of protective bus driver shields across the bus fleet.
When it comes to operational measures, TransLink has been working towards hiring more bus drivers to account for the added buses and recovery time needed from deteriorating travel speeds and times from congestion. When travel times become more unpredictable, recovery time needs to be increased.
More buses and bus drivers are increasingly needed to keep buses on a scheduled frequency; for instance, a bus route that previously had a travel time of 50 minutes and a frequency of every 10 minutes required five buses, but with a longer travel time of 60 minutes on the same route, it would need six buses to maintain the frequency of every 10 minutes.
According to TransLink, the added labour and operating costs of maintaining existing service levels and working conditions is the leading factor for the $75 million in extra annual bus operating costs.
The public transit authority previously stated this year it was struggling to keep up with ridership demand, and that includes hiring enough bus drivers to maintain existing services and expand services.
Amidst the difficult labour market in Metro Vancouver for employers, based on a released statement yesterday, TransLink says it hired over 1,000 bus drivers in the last two years, and it needs to hire 1,300 additional bus drivers between now and 2021. Currently, there are approximately 5,000 bus and SeaBus workers, including maintenance crews.
Buoyed by housing unaffordability and strong economic growth, there is a major shortage in available labour, particularly in the service sectors and entry-level positions where job vacancies are rampant.
The unemployment rate in Metro Vancouver hovered at 4.6%, making it the lowest of large urban areas in the country. The labour market is near full employment, with the job vacancy rate hovering at just 4.8% this past spring.
Employers are facing upward pressure on the compensation and benefits allocated to their workers in a bid to compete with other businesses and organizations for the limited pool of workers.
Metro Vancouver’s bus and SeaBus workers last went on strike in 2001, with job action crippling the public transit system for four consecutive months. The strike only ended when the provincial government enacted legislation that forced over 3,000 workers to return to work.
At the time of the 2001 strike, the region was far less dependent on public transit; even the Millennium Line was still under construction, and the region’s first U-Pass program for UBC and SFU had yet to be implemented. After the strike ended, TransLink apologized and showed customer appreciation by offering three consecutive days of free rides upon the return of regular service.