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Another multi-day transit strike looms Feb. 3 if mediation fails, says union

Transit supervisor union issues strike notice for Feb. 3 if government-appointed non-binding mediation fails; action could affect SeaBus and SkyTrain.
A SkyTrain on the Evergreen extension of the Millennium line passes over the deserted bus mall at Coquitlam's City Centre station on Jan. 22, 2024, the first of two days of job action planned by supervisors for Coast Mountain Bus Company.

If a high-profile government-appointed “special mediator” can’t get a deal done, Metro Vancouver transit supervisors say they will walk off the job again, for three days, on Feb. 3.

“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,” stated Liam O’Neill, spokesperson for CUPE 4500, representing over 180 transit supervisors at Coast Mountain Bus Company, a subsidiary of the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority, known to commuters as TransLink.

The strike notice comes hours after the B.C. government appointed Vince Ready as a special mediator who will get both parties at the negotiating table for six days.  

Should a deal not be reached, Ready will provide a report to Minister of Labour Harry Bains, who faces increased pressure to order the supervisors to work after a two-day strike this week crippled the commute for residents of the metropolitan region.

“We are prepared to continue our work with Mr. Ready. If anyone can help us reach a deal, it’s him,” said O’Neill.

Ready, notably, had already provided private mediation between the parties before the Jan. 22 shutdown. The company and union have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2022. The union has said the company did not begin negotiations until last fall. The company says its offer is substantial and in line with other deals with unions.

According to the company, supervisors have been offered a 13.5 per cent increase over three years, starting from Jan. 1, 2023, when the old three-year contract expired.

That brings a transit supervisor’s salary to $104,886, from $92,415.

The company says the union’s offer is a 25 per cent increase, to a salary of $115,477.

The company said Wednesday, after supervisors returned to work at 3 a.m., that it welcomes Ready’s engagement.

“We hope the union will not resume any job action while the special mediator is doing his work. CMBC is committed to working closely with the special mediator in the coming days. As such, CMBC will decline further comment,” stated the company.

For its part, the union was more specific after Bains announced Ready’s appointment. If the Labour Board permits it, CUPE 4500 intends to expand picketing sites to include other TransLink locations as part of the possible Feb. 3 action, the union said. This picketing will include SkyTrain stations and other operations, noted O’Neill.

“If the option is open to CUPE 4500, we will be picketing SkyTrain operations in addition to Coast Mountain. This will effectively shut down all buses, the SeaBus, and all SkyTrain lines for three days,” said O’Neill in a statement to media Wednesday. “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.” 

Bridgitte Anderson, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade president and CEO, called on the leadership of CUPE 4500 to publicly commit that there will be no further disruptions to services during the mediation process.

“In the two days services were shut down, we heard from countless businesses of the economic harm resulting from 300,000 people that use the bus and SeaBus not being able to get to and from work and move effectively around the region,” said Anderson.

Ready’s report will provide Bains with non-binding recommendations. Bains, whose governing caucus is generally aligned with unions, could order the supervisors back to work as essential workers.

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