Unifor vs Translink: How the transit strike could impact the entire lower mainland…

In case you’ve been living under a rock these past few months, you know that the unions representing bus drivers, Sea-Bus drivers and Skytrain drivers have been in ongoing negotiations for a new contract with Translink for months and months now.

It all started back in March 31 earlier this year, which was the last day that Unifor union transit workers worked under a contract. They have been working without a contract since that day and have been working under the conditions of the previous contract since then, which Unifor representatives say is no longer adequate.

The main points of contention between the two sides in negotiating a new contract have been wages, benefits and working conditions. Unifor union representatives say that the wages paid to Translink employees in the lower mainland are not comparable with those of other major Canadian cities. They want to see transit operators salaries hiked in line with what Toronto transit operators are paid, and mechanics wages linked to SkyTrain maintenance workers. Transit workers also say they want improved working conditions, including guaranteed break times.

A picture recently circulated on social media shows one North Vancouver Translink operators bathroom / lunchroom condition in effort to show the conditions transit operators have to deal with on the daily.

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Reports say that the microwave has since been removed from that bathroom but that also caused a backlash as Translink was accused of not wanting of their employees have microwaves or hot meals at all.

In order to get negotiations moving along, Unifor president Jerry Dias will be personally present on Tuesday’s bargaining session to help facilitate any potential deal. The union has warned that if a deal isn’t reached by Tuesday night, there will be no buses running across the region from Wednesday to Friday. TransLink says there’s about a $150-million gap between what the union is asking for and their offer. It says operators have been offered a $6,000 annual pay hike and a 40-minute guaranteed recovery time during shifts, while maintenance workers have been offered a $10,000 pay bump.

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On Monday, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said that a three-day work stoppage would have a “devastating impact on the people of Metro Vancouver.” He said the job action would have the greatest impact on the region’s most vulnerable people, namely “the elderly, people with disabilities, people with no other options.” Desmond went on to say the work stoppage will also impact students and the 165,000 people who use buses each day to commute to work. However, Desmond says services will continue to run during three-day shutdown, including the SkyTrain, West Coast Express, some community shuttles, and West Vancouver transit, except for the 257 express bus. HandyDart will also be operating but Desmond warns it will likely be very busy. They also announced that Skytrain would operate additional routes in off-peak hours.

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If you’re thinking “why doesn’t Translink just hire non-union employees to operate the transit system?” Think again, as it’s illegal for an employer to hire replacement workers under the Labour Relations Code in B.C. Under the Labour Relations Code, Labour Minister Harry Bains can order that “essential services” continue to be provided if the dispute poses a threat to the health, safety, or welfare of B.C. residents. Under the law, the Labour Relations Board or Bains can appoint a mediator to confer with the parties before any job action has taken place.

Now this strike business shouldn’t be anything new to B.C. residents. A four month long labour strike in 2001 caused massive traffic interruptions, chaos and anger from the public due to the strike. The chair of TransLink at the time, then Vancouver councillor George Puil, was vilified by those who blamed him for the shutdown of bus service. Protesters dumped manure in front of his house and Puil, along with most of his fellow NPA candidates, were sent packing in the 2002 election. This strike ended with a new contract being negotiated after return to work legislation was introduced by the newly elected premier Gordon Campbell and his B.C. Liberal party back in 2001.

Many transit users across the lower mainland have already started to make plans in case the strike actually does roll out starting Wednesday. Use of ride-sharing services like gobyRIDE and LiftTango have increased, even without job action yet taking place. Evo and Car2Go will also be expanding their drop-off and pick-up boundaries. There will be designated ride sharing parking spots at park and rides outside of Skytrain stations across the lower mainland. Van City Bike has announced that if a full shutdown takes place this week, they will be offering discounted daily rentals. Lower Mainland residents who present a valid ID will have access to 24-hour rentals for just $5. TransLink will offer complementary bike valet at some SkyTrain stations between 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the days of the shutdown, while bicycles will be allowed on board the last car of each Skytrain throughout the duration of the shutdown.

Translink has said that they plan on providing a credit to users of Compass accounts for any day during the strike period which will result in them seeing a credit the next time the user goes to use the card on any transit service. Customers will be credited back the value of a day’s fare relative to the type of pass they purchased. A one zone pass, which costs $98, would be divided by 30 days to get the credit value per each day the strike is active. This value is roughly $3.27, which the customer would be automatically credited if they don’t use their card.

Upwards of 350,000 people in the lower mainland rely on buses or Sea-Buses every single day to get around. Approximately 165,000 use them to get to and from work and about 60% of those don’t own a car or have a drivers license. According to Translink’s modeling, as many as 36,000 more cars may be on the roads during any shutdown of services.

Let’s hope for all of our sakes, the two sides are able to reach a deal sooner than later and we don’t feel the squeeze that residents felt during 2001.

  • Joel “Turtle” Gaudet

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