Transit strike escalation possible next week

Unionized workers hope public pressure will help bring a settlement

Unionized transit drivers are enlisting the public to put pressure on TransLink before opting to escalate their strike next week.

Union members have been handing out pamphlets and buttons at the SeaBus terminal and are urging passengers to contact Coast Mountain Bus and TransLink, said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor western regional director, which represents transit operators.

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So far, job actions including an overtime ban on maintenance workers have mainly impacted SeaBus sailings.

Sixteen sailings a day were being cancelled by Thursday – most of those in the latter part of the evening after rush hour.

The SeaBus is subject to minimum staffing requirements set out by Transport Canada, both on the vessel and on shore, which makes meeting those more difficult during an overtime ban if anyone is away.

As of Thursday, the two sides in the dispute remained at an impasse.

McGarrigle warned if no progress is made, the next step – possibly as early as next week – would be an overtime ban for bus drivers. “That could take out about 10 to 15 per cent of the system,” he said.

Issues in the dispute include wage increases and working conditions, specifically guaranteed breaks for bus drivers.

Transit drivers currently earn $32.61 per hour said McGarrigle but want wages closer to those earned by transit operators in other major Canadian cities, which are over $35 an hour.

Traffic congestion and increased ridership has also been squeezing out drivers’ break times, he said.

Coast Mountain has argued the wages the union is asking for are too expensive, are higher than those of other public sector workers and would jeopardize plans for transit expansion.

McGarrigle called that fearmongering. “We think it’s a question of priorities,” he said.

SeaBus commuter Alan Eckersley said Thursday morning he can see both sides of the argument.

Eckersley said so far he hasn’t felt the impact of the job action. Most of the SeaBus sailings are still running on time, he said.

“If there was no SeaBus, that would be a problem. Living on the North Shore we have two bridges and a ferry.”

Eckersley said he’s hopeful an agreement will be reached before any actions are taken that would cause major transit disruptions. “I’m optimistic.”

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