Metro Vancouver braces for transit strike Monday

“It’s a stay-tuned thing,” said Coast Mountain Bus Company spokesperson Mike Killeen, who expressed optimism a strike could be averted over the weekend.

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There is optimism a Metro Vancouver bus strike could be averted as Coast Mountain Bus Company and the union representing transit supervisors planned to return to the bargaining table Saturday.

In the meantime, businesses and commuters across the region prepared for a possible strike set to start early Monday morning.

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On Thursday, the union representing transit supervisors announced plans for its 180 members to walk off the job for two days starting Monday at 3 a.m., effectively suspending bus and SeaBus service. The bus drivers’ union indicated its members wouldn’t cross the picket lines.

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But on Friday afternoon, Coast Mountain Bus Company said in a statement that it had been invited back to the bargaining table by mediator Vince Ready and was hopeful an agreement could be reached.

Bus passengers wait for a bus on Burrard Street as transit supervisors are set to strike, in Vancouver, B.C., on January 19, 2024.(NICK PROCAYLO/POSTMEDIA) Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /10103576A

A strike could have major impacts on businesses, which will struggle to “keep the doors open” if employers who rely on buses are unable to get to and from work, said Bridgitte Anderson, president of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.

“The possible two-day transit shutdown would have significant ramifications on our local economy and negatively impact the lives of the hundreds of thousands of residents and workers who rely on transit to get to and from work,” said a news release urging the provincial government to step in with support to come to a resolution.

Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant Association, said a strike would create uncertainty for restaurant owners.

“It sucks,” he said. “A lot of our workers, in particular, use the bus to get to and from work.”

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Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

Tostenson said he noticed that during the recent snowstorm, several restaurants on the North Shore were closed, likely due to staff being unable to catch a bus. A strike would be no different.

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But Tostenson said he hoped a strike would be mitigated by ride-share services such as Uber.

There were no ride-sharing services in 2001 when commuters were forced to carpool, cycle and walk during a 123-day transit strike that eventually ended when the provincial government passed legislation to get buses moving.

The region came close to a similar strike in 2019 when bus drivers voted to walk off the job. A deal was reached at the last minute to avert the strike.

At a news conference Thursday, union spokesman Liam O’Neill said the organization’s members have been waiting for more than four weeks for a response to their latest proposal to Coast Mountain Bus Company.

“Our patience for Coast Mountain to take bargaining and our issues seriously has been exhausted,” he said. “Our members deserve a fair deal.”

O’Neill said the union wants wage discrepancies and workload issues addressed.

“A group of our members do the same work as other transit workers with TransLink, and our members are paid significantly less for doing the same job,” he said.

But Coast Mountain said it has offered CUPE 4500 the same wage offer agreed to by other Coast Mountain unions. It said the union’s ask of a 25-per-cent wage increase over three years for transit supervisors, which make up about a third of the union, is “unreasonable.”

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It noted that transit supervisors on buses do not have the same job description as supervisors on SkyTrain, who manage a staff of up to 30 people and are responsible for hiring and other decisions.

“The roles are not comparable,” said Coast Mountain spokesperson Mike Killeen. “It’s apples and oranges.”

According to figures provided by Coast Mountain, the union is asking for a 25-per-cent increase for transit supervisors, which would bring their annual salary to $115,477 after three years from the current $92,400. The company said it is offering workers a 13.5-per-cent wage hike to $104,886 after three years.

Killeen said he was “optimistic and hopeful” a strike could be prevented over the weekend.

“We’ve encouraged the union to come back to the table with a reasonable offer,” he said. “It’s a stay-tuned thing.”

According to TransLink data, only about 25 per cent of journeys on transit don’t involve a bus, with about 338,000 journeys per day on bus alone, 232,000 journeys per day with a transfer between bus and SkyTrain, and 5,400 journeys per day with a transfer between bus and another mode of transit, such as HandyDART.

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A possible strike by more than 180 transit supervisors seeking a new contract could have a major effect on Metro Vancouver commuters, including workers and students, with the bus drivers’ union saying it would back the job action. Photo by JONATHAN HAYWARD /THE CANADIAN PRESS

In a statement, Fraser Health said it doesn’t anticipate an impact on hospital operations due to the possible strike. The health authority runs several shuttle services between worksites and transit stations for staff and medical staff.

“We strongly encourage all staff and medical staff to proactively plan for potential delays to ensure a safe and timely journey to work,” said spokesperson Krystle Landert. “We advise them to consider alternative transportation options, such as ride-sharing, EVO, taxis, biking, walking, or carpooling with colleagues.”

University of B.C. spokesperson Thandi Fletcher said a bus strike could impact students, faculty and staff.

“While the campus will not close in the event of a strike, there is the potential for some in-person learning activities to shift online,” she said.

Student are being told to look for communication from their instructors before Monday to find out what they are planning, while faculty and staff are asked to speak to their supervisors about the possibility of working from home.

Simon Fraser University is also planning for a possible disruption, with a notice to students saying the school is “making every effort for classes to continue either online or asynchronously.” Some classes may have to be cancelled.

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Faculty and staff are expected to continue working, said the notice. “Employees who are unable to attend work or perform work remotely will have the option to take vacation, other paid leave entitlements or unpaid leave.”

Anticipating extra vehicles on campus, SFU will make more parking available in Burnaby and Surrey.

Transit riders reacted with alarm at news of a possible strike.

“I don’t know how I’d get to work if the buses aren’t running,” Debbie Flores said Thursday while waiting for a bus in East Vancouver.

She works as a nanny and commutes every day on buses and SkyTrain from her home in Surrey to Vancouver.

“It’ll make life even harder for me.”

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— with files by Cheryl Chan and Stephanie Ip

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