Transit strike still a possibility

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B.C. Transit was served a 72-hour strike notice on Oct. 5 by Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 333, the local union that represents the 680 drivers and skilled trades and maintenance workers in the Greater Victoria area. Four months of negotiations reached a standstill when the union’s proposal demanding an increase in wages and benefits was refused by B.C. Transit.

The union has been in a legal position to take job action since Oct. 8; however, no action has been taken as of press time, save for drivers refusing to wear their uniforms starting on Oct. 10, opting instead for jeans, sweaters and even kilts.

At that time, said Meribeth Burton, B.C. Transit spokesperson, the employer and union were at an impasse. “We have yet to hear from the union,” Burton said, “except what we’ve heard through the media that they do not want to strike. We certainly don’t want a strike either, and we’re hoping that something can be worked out with some flexibility and some co-operation, but [also with the knowledge] that we’re a Crown corporation and we have to follow the rules of the province.”

The union promised to give 24-hour notice to the public if it plans to strike, but also suggested that the public make alternative plans for travel. UVic plans to remain open — fully operational with courses running — regardless of transit job action, and encourages students and staff to plan accordingly.

The last time transit workers went on strike in Victoria was April 2001, and it lasted for two weeks. The most recent contract expired on Mar. 31, 2012, leaving workers without a contract while the union and B.C. Transit discussed various contracts. Negotiations accelerated Oct. 1–5 in a marathon of bargaining sessions totalling more than 40 hours and ending with the strike notice.

“Everyone wants to meet in the middle, and today we are not in the middle,” said Paul MacDonald, a member of the union’s bargaining committee.

Local 333 stated its willingness to continue meeting with B.C. Transit. B.C. Transit asked Local 333 to meet with their counterparts at the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) and other collective bargaining units that represent the public service, said Burton, “to get a better understanding of what the Cooperative Gains Mandate is and then to come back to us with a proposal that is within those wage and benefits restrictions.”

In bargaining agreements, B.C. Transit must follow the 2012 Cooperative Gains Mandate, which outlines co-operative agreements for public sector employees of Crown corporations. The mandate allows for modest wage increases and improvements to job security and benefit plans, as long as agreements do not add pressure to the government’s budget, increase costs to taxpayers or sacrifice services to the public. Local 333 has not made the terms of its proposal public, but maintains that its offer was fair.

“I can tell you that the contract demands are reasonable,” said MacDonald. “Everyone is aware that you have to be reasonable.”

Local 333 and B.C. Transit were set to resume negotiations Monday, Oct. 15, but that was the only confirmed date for bargaining as of press time. The abstention from wearing uniforms will continue until a tentative agreement is reached. Burton said Local 333 has assured B.C. Transit that it will take no further job action while both sides are at the bargaining table.

Wage and benefits agreements under the Cooperative Gains Mandate have recently been made with the B.C. Nurses’ Union and BCGEU with modest wage increases of three and four per cent, respectively.

Check for updates on martlet.ca.

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