Here’s why Bus and Seabus workers in Metro Vancouver went on strike for two days
The union says further job action could be possible if a deal is not reached.
Bus and Seabus services were completely halted across Metro Vancouver for two days, and the union says the company refused to negotiate with them over pay and workload issues.
CUPE 4500, the union representing over 180 transit supervisors with Coast Mountain Bus Company, says the union’s collective agreement with CMBC expired October 2022 and that the union had been waiting “weeks” for the employer to respond to their proposals.
“CUPE 4500 has been waiting over four weeks for Coast Mountain to respond to our latest proposal. Our patience for Coast Mountain to take bargaining and our issues seriously has been exhausted,” Liam O’Neill, spokesperson for CUPE 4500 in a release.
The key issues the union wants to see addressed are wage discrepancies between their members and other Translink supervisors, and the fact that key workload issues have yet to be addressed.
CUPE 4500 members first initiated an overtime ban on January 6 before escalating the job action on Monday.
“It is simple – transit workers doing the same job deserve a similar wage. This should be a realistic expectation for anyone,” O’Neill said.
“A 25 percent across-the-board wage increase has never been proposed by the union. But some of our members are getting paid far less than other TransLink workers doing the same jobs. It’s not fair, and we need to find a solution at the Table.”
Dr. Mark Thompson, Professor Emeritus with UBC’s Sauder School of Business, says that a strike with such a short duration demonstrates that the union is eager to find a solution at the table and avoid further inconveniencing the public.
“They’ve only gone on strike for two days. It’s unusual. Usually a union is on strike until they have reached an agreement that suits their needs, or they don’t have a hope of succeeding. But here, they’ve said we’re only going out for two days. So they’re not anxious to go on strike or to cause inconvenience to the public,” Thompson told PressProgress.
“What makes it so special is that so many people are affected, and it’s a fairly small union.”
Thompson said the grievances that the union has are “fairly routine,” but given the impact to the public, the government may feel the need to step-in should a resolution not be reached.
“The terms of the dispute are fairly routine. The union wants an improved deal for their members, and the employer says we can’t afford it or it’s not reasonable, and so, it’ll grind on one way or the other. But given the impact it has on the public, it’ll attract the attention of the government.”
In a press conference Monday, BC Labour Minister Harry Bains said in a press conference Monday that the government could bring in a “special mediator” to settle the dispute.
The union asserts that they have no interest in continuing the work stoppage and are eager to get back to the table.
“CUPE 4500 members are proud of the job we do for our passengers. Like them, ourfamilies and friends depend on transit too. We regret these disruptions and the challenges this will cause for the people we serve every day,” O’Neill said in a statement.
“But Coast Mountain could have avoided this. Instead, they put us, and, through their inflexibility, transit users, in this situation.”
During the strike, social media users also complained about price gouging by ride-share apps like Uber and Lyft.
O’Neill said in a press conference Monday that the union filed an application with the BC Labour Relations Board asking for the right to picket Skytrain stations, which could mean more service stoppages if a deal is not reached at the table.
On Wednesday, the union said they welcome the appointment of special mediator Vince Ready to help the union reach a settlement, warning that if the mediator’s recommendations don’t lead to a tentative agreement, there could be a withdrawal of services.
“For this process to be successful, Coast Mountain and TransLink are going to need to show some willingness to find common ground. Their past conduct in mediation leaves us skeptical,” O’Neill said in a statement Wednesday.
“We’re committed to working with the special mediator. We hope his recommendations might show us a path to a fair collective agreement. If not, CUPE 4500 members will be left with no choice but to take the next step. If we don’t have a tentative agreement by 12:01 a.m. February 3, CUPE 4500 members will be withdrawing services for 72-hours.”
If the union’s application at the Labour Relations Board is successful, this would mean a full shutdown of all bus and skytrain services for three days.
“We are running out of options with Coast Mountain and TransLink. CUPE 4500 members have been more than patient, and the union has done all it can to get the fair deal our members deserve.”
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