Here is why the transit strike affects only the SeaBus…so far

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seabus sailing
Photo: Seabus between Downtown Vancouver and North Vancouver

On Tuesday, Nov. 6, TransLink confirmed that another 14 SeaBus sailings would be cancelled on Nov.7 as a result of the transit strike issued by Unifor, the union representing bus operators and transit maintenance workers.

With this in mind, the transit authority hasn’t been able to comment on which bus routes will be affected. So far, it says that none of them have been.

Ben Murphy, Senior Media Relations Officer, TransLink, told Vancouver Is Awesome in an email that the SeaBus isn’t permitted to sail without a minimum number of crew on board  as required by Transport Canada.

“SeaBus is subject to strict minimum staffing requirements set out by Transport Canada,” writes Murphy.

“Every SeaBus is required to have 4 crew on the vessel, 2 shore-based engineers, and 2 attendants at each terminal.”

Since there is a shortage of skilled workers who can operate the SeaBus, the transit authority knows in advance of how many sailings will be cancelled. If someone is sick or on vacation, it relies on ‘flexible shifts who can cover absences.’

“Given there are limited relief staff, overtime can be necessary when employees are sick or on vacation,” states Murphy.

“Coast Mountain Bus Company also acknowledges that there is a shortage of skilled workers within the organization, which is why the current wage offer for skilled workers is more than 3 per cent each year.  This is well in excess of other public sector settlements in British Columbia of 2 per cent.”

Murphy says that all SeaBus crew and staff fall under Unifor 2200, which represents 1000 skilled trades and support workers employed by Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) in Metro Vancouver. As such, SeaBus crew are included in the strike on overtime maintenance work. And, since the SeaBus relies on overtime work to operate some of its sailings, it is unable to meet the demand.

In contrast, Unifor Local 111, the group that represents over 3,700 transit operators employed by CMBC, has issued a uniform ban, but not an overtime ban. As a result, it is much more difficult for the transit authority to know when the buses will be affected.

“Any bus service disruptions due to the union’s maintenance overtime ban will be harder to anticipate than SeaBus cancellations.  If there are any specific service adjustments or cancellations, we will update customers through regular communication channels, including our website, transit alerts, and social media,” writes Murphy.

Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor Western Regional Director, says that, without progress on core issues, nearly 5,000 members will escalate job action in the coming weeks.

The Port Coquitlam transit centre is one of the smallest in Metro Vancouver, with only six bays to service buses, half of which are currently occupied by ongoing upgrades to articulating buses that will be used in the rapid transit line between Coquitlam Central Station and Maple Ridge that is to open in January. To make matters worse, part of the bus company’s fleet that entered into service in 2006 is undergoing an overhaul and half of those service Port Coquitlam.

“You look at all of that combined, we’ll probably be reaching our capacity over the next few days,” said Michael McDaniel, Coast Mountain’s president and general manager.

Disruptions will likely begin with a bus or two down and some trips cancelled, added McDaniel. But if the OT ban continues, McDaniel said it will become increasingly difficult to keep buses on the road.

TransLink has been scaling back sailings on the busy Waterfront to Lonsdale Quay connector since Friday, Nov. 1, when Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) operators and maintenance workers represented by Unifor began job action.

The initial phase of the strike action began on Nov. 1 at 8 a.m., with operators not wearing their CMBC uniforms and maintenance workers not doing overtime.

Commuters can sign-up for Transit Alerts or follow @TransLink on Twitter for updates.

With files from Tri-City News.