Last minute talks between the union representing Metro Vancouver’s bus and SeaBus workers and TransLink subsidiary Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) fell apart yesterday, failing to thwart the first labour action on the region’s public transit system in nearly two decades.
The initial conduct of the labour action, beginning today, is relatively modest compared to the months-long shutdown transit riders endured in 2001.
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Unifor announced yesterday its labour action starts with a uniform ban by transit operators and an overtime ban by maintenance workers, with the accumulation of unmet maintenance hours resulting in a gradual increase in pressure on the transit system.
If both parties are unable to come to an agreement over the coming days, weeks, or even months (if history repeats itself), this could quickly lead to fewer buses on the road and a possible impact on SeaBus service.
The union asserts its members, particularly the frontline workers, specifically bus drivers, are feeling the direct brunt of the public transit system’s growing pains.
Overall ridership is up by 18% between 2016 and 2018, and overcrowding increased by 36% over the same period, creating a stressful and demand work environment that is exacerbated by “a serious understaffing issue.” Bus delays as a result of rising traffic congestion, for instance, have been cutting away at the designated break times bus drivers have for eating and going to the washroom.
Unifor has been negotiating for a corresponding increase in wages, benefits, and working conditions for 5,000 members.
Sources told Daily Hive on Thursday the counter proposal by CMBC of wage and benefit increases, as well as improved working conditions, is as follows:
- Bus driver wage increase: 9.6% over four years.
- Maintenance worker wage increase: 12.2% over four years.
- Wage increase for other workers: 8.2% over four years.
- Working condition improvements: An unspecified amount in the millions of dollars to increase the designated break times for bus drivers, effectively better accounting the impact of rising bus delays.
To put this in real terms, conventional bus drivers currently earn $32.61 per hour after 24 months of employment. With CMBC’s proposed wage increases, conventional bus drivers would reach $35.74 per hour after staggered increases over the next four years.
CMBC is also spending tens of millions of dollars more to hire more bus drivers, increase bus services, and introduce new routes. Between now and 2021, it plans to hire an additional 1,300 bus drivers, with much of the workforce expansion intended to address understaffing concerns.
Daily Hive was unable to obtain Unifor’s proposal, but given the rejection it goes without saying that it was obviously greater than what CMBC was willing to offer.
Negotiators for CMBC maintain they are seeking fiscal responsibility, choosing to focus tax dollars on much-needed expansions and improvements to services. They believe their proposal is fair and reasonable, addressing the outstanding issues to a level that exceeds most other public sector settlements with unions in the province.
CMBC asserts meeting Unifor’s level of demands would result in added operating costs of tens of millions of dollars annually, and it could threaten components of the Mayors’ Council’s 10-year plan of improving and expanding transit service levels — including hiring more bus drivers — amidst quickly growing ridership.
The expanded workforce over the coming years would be in addition to the over 1,000 new bus drivers hired over the last two years.
Until further notice, the public transit authority is asking transit riders to allow for extra time to reach their destinations. It is unknown when both sides will meet again at the table and resume negotiations.
The West Vancouver Blue Bus, all three SkyTrain lines, the West Coast Express, and HandyDART services are unaffected by the labour action.