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 maintenance staff.

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 public.

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."

(Photos: Unifor Local 111)

This article was published in

Number 28 - November 27, 2019

Article Link:
Vancouver Transit Workers Defend Their Rights and the Public Transit System: Bus Drivers and Maintenance Workers Reach Tentative Agreement - Anne Jamieson and Brian Sproule


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