Transit negotiations fall through, job action continues

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Transit worker job action continues after negotiations between the union and B.C. Transit came to a standstill despite a mediator’s presence on Nov. 1. The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 333 met with B.C. Transit in Vancouver with a mediator from the Labour Relations Board in hopes of settling the dispute that has left workers without a contract since March 31.

“The mediator felt the two sides were too far apart,” says Meribeth Burton, spokesperson for B.C. Transit.

Both B.C. Transit and the union reported bringing several options to the table, and both said the opposing side was not making concessions, leading to an impasse after four hours.

Job action includes an overtime ban and uniform abstention for the 650 bus drivers, skilled trades workers and maintenance workers in CAW Local 333. As a result, many bus trips have been cancelled daily.

The two parties came to an agreement about wage and benefit increases, but negotiations have shifted to the new Vicinity community buses. The five new buses carry more passengers than the current community buses and are scheduled to start service in the spring. Both parties agree that the community bus fleet is in need of upgrading, but disagree on who should drive the buses.

Community buses are limited in the number of seats they may have without highly trained drivers. The dispute surrounds whether or not the seat-number restriction includes standing passengers. The Vicinity buses don’t have more seats than the definition of a community bus allows, but they have additional standing passenger capacity.

The union’s position is that the Vicinity buses should be driven by highly trained workers who are qualified to drive the larger conventional and double-decker buses. These drivers receive higher pay than community bus drivers.

“We have issues with this bus being driven by a person with a Class 4 licence, as well as we don’t think they’re going to actually be able to keep a schedule,” says Ben Williams, president of CAW Local 333. Williams says that the buses will be crowded and slowed down by having more standing passengers and only one door, especially on a community bus that stops frequently.

B.C. Transit argues that the Vicinity buses meet the Class 4 licence requirements set out by ICBC and the Motor Vehicle Act.

“Our community buses right now have a five-year life span, and we pay about $185 000, and the new buses are $253 000 — but they last 10 years,” says Burton. “So we’re getting better value for our money. We’re carrying more people. We’ve expanded [the buses] one foot longer, and licensing [is] determined by ICBC.”

Williams says the union is concerned that the Vicinity buses and lower-paid drivers will be moved to larger bus routes. “We’re talking about a two-year contract, and there’s only 18 months left in it. The new buses are only going to [arrive in] spring, so essentially [B.C. Transit is] assuring that they won’t take any of our work for 12 months. What happens after the 12 months?”

“From B.C. Transit’s perspective,” says Burton, “these buses were purposely designed for community shuttle routes. We have agreed to make concessions on the contract to assure the union that these buses will stay on the community routes for the length of the collective agreement.”

No further negotiations have been scheduled as of press time. The overtime and uniform ban will continue, with the possibility of escalation. Service will likely be further disrupted as maintenance work piles up. Only minor repairs are being tended to; any buses in need of major work are taken off the road.

The union has promised to give the public 24-hour notice should there be any changes to transit job action.

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