Metro Vancouver transit talks collapse, job action by bus drivers due Friday

VANCOUVER — Talks have broken down in the ongoing transit dispute in Metro Vancouver, paving the way for an increase in job action by Unifor transit drivers, SeaBus operators and mechanics starting Friday.

Unifor officials say in a news release that Coast Mountain Bus Company's refusal to deal with key bargaining issues resulted in a mutual agreement to discontinue negotiations.

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The company says it offered an enhanced proposal for working conditions, but wage demands over the increases it has already offered would come at the expense of customer service and it's time for the union to compromise.

The union says the collapse of talks means it will expand its job action with a ban on overtime for drivers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until a contract is reached.

The union has said that a ban on overtime for bus operators could force delays or cancellations on as much as 15 per cent of bus routes across the Lower Mainland.

The job action by about 5,000 Unifor members began Nov. 1 with an overtime ban by mechanics that prompted the almost immediate cancellation of numerous SeaBus sailings and delays or cancellations on dozens of bus routes.

The union has said a key issue in the dispute is a $3 per hour wage disparity between mechanics who maintain buses and mechanics in a different union doing the same job on SkyTrain cars.

Coast Mountain's statement says it's asking the union to be more realistic about wage demands, given that its offer far exceeds public sector settlements in B.C.

The union earlier obtained a 99 per cent strike mandate.

Unifor's job action is not the only transit problem facing Metro Vancouver commuters.

Talks between CUPE Local 7000 and the B.C. Rapid Transit Company, which handles SkyTrain service on the Expo and Millennium lines, collapsed Tuesday.

The union said workers have been without a contract since August.

Wages and staffing levels are several of the items on the table.

CUPE Local 7000 has not yet conducted a strike vote, so job action is not imminent, nor would its strike action affect the Canada Line connection to Richmond and Vancouver International Airport, or the West Coast Express commuter train between Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

Canada Line and West Coast Express workers are represented by other unions.

Michel Ladrak, president of B.C. Rapid Transit, said the company remains committed to the bargaining process and suggested mediation may help solve the current issues with Local 7000.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2019.

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