Transit union cancels full-scale walkout for Jan. 22

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Update: B.C. Transit and its drivers’ union have reached a tentative agreement as of Jan. 16, 2012. The full-day Jan. 22 strike has been cancelled, and the Vicinity buses will be tested in areas outside of Greater Victoria. 

The original article and headline that appear in our Jan. 17 issue of the Martlet are below. The tentative agreement was reached after the Jan. 17 issue of the Martlet had already gone to press. 

Transit union calls full-scale walkout for Jan. 22

B.C. Transit and its drivers’ union have a few days to resume negotiations before the public must prepare alternative travel plans for Jan. 22.

“If we do not get the issue resolved by Jan. 22,” said Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 333 President Ben Williams, “there is, without the shadow of a doubt, the possibility of further job action after Jan. 22.”

The Greater Victoria transit system will not provide any services for a full day on Jan. 22 as a part of escalating job action by the union against B.C. Transit. CAW 333 has called for a public rally at the B.C. Transit headquarters at 520 Gorge Road East on the same day, also in an attempt to settle a new contract for workers, who have been without a contract since March 31, 2012.

The rally was meant to coincide with the union’s meeting with the Victoria Regional Transit Commission scheduled for 9 a.m. on Jan. 22 at the B.C. Transit headquarters. However, the meeting has been cancelled.

The union will cancel all 70 000 service trips in a full-scale, one-day walkout between 4 a.m. on Jan. 22 and 4 a.m. Jan. 23. The last full-system strike in Greater Victoria lasted two weeks in 2001. Since October 2012, the 650 bus drivers, skilled tradespersons and maintenance workers have engaged in uniform abstention and an overtime ban.

B.C. Transit and CAW 333 have not met at the bargaining table since Dec. 17, when negotiations broke down over wages for drivers of the new Vicinity community buses.

“We’ve sent them an olive branch three times,” said Meribeth Burton, spokesperson for B.C. Transit. “When impasse was declared, to try and get back to the table, we brought our very best offer forward. And we need to hear from the union that they’re willing to negotiate fairly so that we can get back to the table. So at this time we’re waiting to hear from the union.”

B.C. Transit maintains that the union’s demands for higher-paid workers to operate Vicinity buses goes beyond the B.C. government’s Co-operative Gains Mandate that governs negotiations.

The union argues that the new community buses, with a single door and increased capacity for standees, should require drivers to have more training (a Class 2 license) and therefore higher pay.  B.C. Transit’s position is that the Vicinity buses, should they be approved and brought to Victoria on a trial run, will be operated under the same license requirement (Class 4) as the current community fleet. Class 4 drivers are paid $20.71 per hour, while Class 2 drivers make $26.14.

Burton notes that both conventional and double-decker buses are operated by Class 2 drivers, despite a 30-passenger difference. The Vicinity buses hold 16 more passengers than buses currently in the community fleet.

While B.C. Transit says the Vicinity buses are designed for and will remain on community routes (routes that mainly comprise residential streets where a conventional bus would be too large), the union fears these buses will be moved to larger routes while the drivers retain community shuttle wages. “There’s a reason B.C. Transit is fighting so hard for this,” said Williams. “They’re going to use this bus in other ways.”

The union and B.C. Transit each state different figures for what the proposed increase in wages for community shuttle drivers will total. Their calculations differ by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to Burton, “B.C. Transit feels that what the union is trying to do is renegotiate a two-tier wage system that has been fairly negotiated between CAW Local 333 and B.C. Transit. It’s been on our collective agreement for a decade now.” Burton says the union is asking B.C. Transit to have one wage for all drivers, and that carries an enormous price tag.

The Victoria Transit Commission previously decided to postpone voting on whether to approve the Vicinity buses for spring 2013 until the labour dispute is settled. The Commission is made up of seven members from municipal elected offices and determines fare rates, route maps and budget reviews.

Williams calls the commission’s decision to postpone voting “irresponsible,” saying that job action could be avoided should the commission hold a vote and decide against bringing the buses in.

Both the union and B.C. Transit are disappointed with the job escalation and hope negotiations resume and that a contract is settled.

B.C. Transit has had a two per cent loss in ridership since October, says Burton.

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