SeaBus affected as Metro Vancouver transit strike reaches Day 4 with no talks

VANCOUVER — Job action by Metro Vancouver transit workers is into a fourth day with more sailing cancellations on a pedestrian ferry connecting Vancouver to the North Shore, and a warning that system-wide disruptions are likely by mid-week.

TransLink confirmed six SeaBus cancellations are anticipated Monday, including three sailings from North Vancouver and three sailings from Vancouver in the afternoon and evening.

The cancellations are related to an overtime ban that began Friday by Unifor maintenance staff. Drivers are also refusing to wear uniforms.

Unifor lead negotiator Gavin McGarrigle said the overtime ban means buses are not being maintained as usual and TransLink’s roughly 150 spare, road-ready buses are rapidly being deployed across the region.

He predicted the company will run out of spare buses as early as Wednesday, prompting route delays or cancellations.

“I’m told from our maintenance workers that by about mid- to late-week you are going see more and more bus cancellations starting to occur,” he told a news conference.

He said the next phase of the job action being considered by the union is an overtime ban for operators.

“Our calculations are that will take out about 10 to 15 per cent of the system right away. Certainly we don’t want to escalate to that level if we don’t need to.”

Talks between Unifor and Coast Mountain Bus Company, which operates Metro Vancouver transit services on behalf of TransLink, broke off last week, leading to job action by roughly 5,000 Unifor transit drivers, SeaBus operators and mechanics.

A date for a resumption of talks has not been set.

The union has a 99 per cent strike mandate backing demands for approximately $608 million in improved wages, benefits and working conditions over the next 10 years.

Mike McDaniel, president of the Coast Mountain Bus Company, has said the company’s current offer would increase maintenance workers’ wages 12.2 per cent and transit workers’ wages 9.6 per cent over four years while also enhancing benefits and improving working conditions.

If the company gave in to the union’s demands, the cost would compromise all planned transit upgrades over the next decade in Metro Vancouver, McDaniel has said.

Jonathan Cote, the mayor of New Westminster and chair of the Mayor’s Council on Metro Vancouver transit and transportation called Monday for a mediator to step into the dispute to head off further disruption to passengers.

He said the council is not directly involved in the negotiations but he’s concerned the strike could have long-term effects on efforts to improve transit service across the region.

“I am here today because what is being discussed from Unifor leadership is talking about scaling (back) the mayors’ 10-year plan and using those expansion (funds),” Cote said in New Westminster.

The mayors have tabled a roughly $7-billion plan to improve transit across Metro Vancouver over the next decade.

Cote agreed more drivers must be hired, more buses are needed on the road and funds must be available for those initiatives but he called on Coast Mountain and Unifor to find a resolution to the labour dispute.

A prolonged strike has the potential to carve into Metro Vancouver’s “enviable” growth in transit ridership, creating “a situation where everyone loses,” he said.

McGarrigle said it was disappointing to see the Mayor’s Council take a “one-sided view” of the labour dispute.

“Our vision is a vastly expanded system that takes care of its workers and the passengers,” he said.

He said if the expansion is based on drivers not getting any minimum breaks, not being paid competitively and where executive compensation is “out of control” to the point where TransLink’s CEO is paid more than the prime minister, then there is a problem.

“Quite frankly, TransLink is simply trying to scare the public and say that the entire plan is at risk if they somehow treat the workers with respect.”

(The Canadian Press, News1130)

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2019.

The Canadian Press

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