Vancouver Transit Workers
Defend Their Rights and the Public Transit System
Bus Drivers and Maintenance Workers Reach Tentative Agreement
Posted to the Unifor Local 111 twitter feed, November 23, 2019: "With
all due respect to PR Dept ... Transit Workers are better
qualified to tell it like it really is. ... just ask and
listen to ANY Transit Worker in this room.
The 5,000 transit workers who provide bus and
ferry services in the Metro Vancouver area have been seeking wages and
benefits acceptable to themselves and improved working conditions which
are the conditions for the safe transport of the public.
The intransigence of CMBC regarding the concerns
of transit workers in Metro Vancouver for proper wages and working
conditions meant that workers announced on November 20 a three-day
system wide shutdown would take place on November 27, 28 and 29.
Negotiations resumed on November 26 after breaking down two weeks ago.
After 10 hours of negotiations, Unifor National President Jerry Dias
announced a 30 minute extension of the strike deadline past midnight to
permit negotiations to continue and a tentative agreement was announced
at 12:30 am this morning, averting the shutdown.
"This contract recognizes that Unifor members are
the backbone of the Metro Vancouver transit system," said Gavin
McGarrigle, Unifor Western Regional Director and lead negotiator. "We
look forward to being an integral part of an expanding system that
keeps this region moving." Job actions will end while ratification
votes take place in the coming days, following which details of the
agreement will be made public.
The contracts between Unifor Locals 111 and 2200
and the Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) expired on March 31. With no
progress made in months of negotiations, in early October, the workers
voted 99 per cent for strike action and served 72 hours strike notice
on October 29. They have been engaged in job action to back their
contract demands since November 1.
The workers are organized in Locals 111,
representing the 4,000 transit operators that drive buses in the
Translink system; and Local 2200 representing nearly 1,000
tradespersons and technicians that maintain the buses and Seabus fleet.
CMBC is wholly owned by TransLink, the body which oversees public
transit operations in Metro Vancouver.
The Transit Strike Bulletin
published by Unifor states "At its core, this labour dispute is about
acknowledging the important role that transit workers play in a system
that is both under stress and expanding."
Three of the issues on the table were: parity of
drivers' wages with those of bus drivers in other large cities like
Toronto; adequate breaks during a shift for rest, food, and to use the
washroom; and wage parity between CMBC maintenance staff, and SkyTrain
The Transit Strike Bulletin
states that despite the company's disrespectful and entrenched
approach, both locals at first opted to take actions that were the
least disruptive to the public, which included a uniform ban by
operators and a ban on overtime by the mechanics.
The ban on
overtime for maintenance workers resulted in daily cancellation of
SeaBus sailings and reduced bus service on a number of major routes.
The fact that this alone caused significant reductions in service only
proved that the working conditions are unsustainable, as everyone knows
that if the system is running on overtime it is running with a
significant shortage of workers. Bus drivers are also experiencing
serious problems because of understaffing, including not getting
bathroom breaks and other rest breaks, putting their safety and
well-being and that of the public at risk.
The entrenched position of TransLink (via CMBC),
was undoubtedly due to the fact that TransLink had decided that it
could not "afford" to meet the just demands of the transit workers
while at the same time proceeding with its planned expansion.
McGarrigle told Star Metro Vancouver
on October 11 that the issue of drivers working through their break
times in order to keep buses running on schedule has gone unresolved
for years. He said that workers are at a "breaking point." Burnout is
common. "Bus drivers need time to recover [...] going to the bathroom,
having something to eat, getting your head reset for the next route,
and they are dealing with completely overcrowded buses, passing up
passengers, having to assist the elderly. They are not machines, they
are humans, and they need adequate time to decompress and recover."
TransLink has reported an 18 per cent increase in
ridership between 2016 and 2018. According to McGarrigle this has
resulted in a 36 per cent increase in overcrowded buses. The small
community shuttle buses which service what are considered light volume
routes have special mechanical lifts at the rear for people using wheel
chairs or scooters as well as for people with shopping carts. These
lifts take time to load and unload passengers as well as to raise and
lower. Drivers also need time to adjust mirrors and the driver's seat
and do various safety checks.
A driver of a bus on one of the busiest routes in
Vancouver told Workers' Forum, "This job has
finished me -- I can't keep doing it." When asked about the issue of
breaks, he said that the route he is on supposedly has a 40-minute
break built into the schedule, but a driver "has to phone ahead and ask
for it." One time he phoned and asked for a break but it was denied and
he was told that the "break is for the bus, not the driver"! Though
well under 65, this worker has decided to take early retirement as soon
as he can do so without penalty (i.e. so that he can have a liveable
pension). He said he fully supports strike action, and has decided to
keep going until after the strike is over for the sake of his fellow
workers who have to stay and keep doing this stressful job.
CMBC had refused any reasonable compromise and dug
into their position, thus forcing the union to escalate actions. As
expected, CMBC had tried to put a wedge between the public and the
union by painting transit workers as selfish and uncaring, and is
quoted in the monopoly media as saying: "The union [will be] leaving
hundreds of thousands of customers without transportation." In fact it
is the employers who are selfish and uncaring both for the public, and
for the transit workers who are providing a crucial service to the
Metro Vancouver transit riders were not taken in
by the attempts to blame the workers. The Transit Strike
Bulletin said, "Transit operators have been overwhelmed by
the support and solidarity from our passengers."
This article was published in
Number 28 - November 27, 2019
Vancouver Transit Workers
Defend Their Rights and the Public Transit System: Bus Drivers and Maintenance Workers Reach Tentative Agreement - Anne Jamieson and Brian