Buses stopped in Metro Vancouver as transit workers go on strike

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UPDATE — January 23, 2024: Metro Vancouver transit strike enters second day


Buses are being stopped as part of a 48-hour strike in Metro Vancouver after more than 180 workers represented by CUPE Local 4500 walked off the job.

The workplace action, which began at 3 a.m. PT, will take place in three weeks. after the workers started refusing overtime.

CUPE representative Liam O’Neill said at a news conference Monday afternoon that the union was considering further intensifying pressure tactics.

Talks between the union and Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC), the workers’ employer, conducted with the help of veteran labor mediator Vince Ready, did not result in a new collective agreement, according to O’Neill.

CUPE national representative Liam O'Neill pictured at a press conference
CUPE national representative Liam O’Neill speaks at a news conference Monday regarding ongoing talks with the Coast Mountain Bus Company in Burnaby, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“We conducted over 20 hours of discussions with CMBC with the help of the mediator and, although we provided solutions and compromises, they tried to intimidate us into accepting their proposal.”

“We will maintain our ban on overtime and then we will have to plan our next escalation,” O’Neill said. “Obviously it will be an escalation, which means more than the current one (48-hour strike) and as soon as we understand that, we will let you know.”

British Columbia Labor Minister Harry Bains said both sides must return to the negotiating table “without delay.”

“It is disappointing that the parties have not reached an agreement,” he said at a press conference on Monday. “We have contacted them to urge both of them to return to the table immediately and reach an agreement quickly.”

A Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 4500 transit worker sits in the rain during a strike in Burnaby, British Columbia, Monday, January 22, 2024.
A striking transit worker from Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 4500 sits in the rain Monday in Burnaby, British Columbia. (Ethan Cairns/The Canadian Press)

Bains said the province is also considering appointing a special mediator to break the impasse between the union and its employer.

“This is an option that we are seriously considering and we have asked both parties if they agree to appoint a special mediator,” he said.

Union workers have called for a new collective agreement, citing concerns about the pay gap between CMBC transit supervisors and other transit system supervisors.

Here’s what you need to know about the strike.

Which services are affected?

Strikers are helping to keep buses and SeaBuses running smoothly, meaning both services will not operate during the strike.

TransLink says none of the routes operated by CMBC will be operational, including service 214 between Blueridge and Phibbs Exchange in North Vancouver, during morning and evening peak hours.

However, the 214 service will operate at other times of the day during the strike.

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Commuters react to Metro Vancouver bus strike

Several Metro Vancouver residents said Monday morning they didn’t realize buses weren’t running as they waited at bus stops. More than 180 Coast Mountain Bus Company employees walked off the job for 48 hours early Monday.

TransLink says its other services – SkyTrain, West Coast Express, HandyDART, West Vancouver Blue Bus and the Bowen Island and Langley community shuttles – will continue to operate during the strike.

However, CUPE Local 7000, which represents rapid transit and railway workers, sent out a bulletin on Sunday warning members of potential disruptions to SkyTrain.

Tony Rebelo of CUPE Local 7000 said Sunday that members would not cross lines if they were stationed around SkyTrain stations.

The bulletin stated that CUPE 4500 had filed a complaint with the Labor Relations Board against TransLink, the BC Rapid Transit Company, West Coast Express and Protrans for attempting to “reduce the impact” on public transit riders during the escalation of the strike.

Members of CUPE 4500 are pictured on a picket line in Surrey, British Columbia, Monday, January 22, 2024.
More than 180 transit workers walked off the job in Metro Vancouver during a 48-hour strike. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

It is unclear when a decision on the complaint will be made. The British Columbia Labor Relations Board said in an email to CBC News that information about the applications filed is confidential. He told the council no hearing was scheduled with CUPE 4500.

TransLink spokeswoman Tina Lovgreen said in an email that the company expects all SkyTrain lines to “operate as normal” on Monday.

“Currently, CUPE Local 4500 can only legally picket buses and SeaBuses,” she said.

Cornel Neagu of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 134, which represents North Shore blue bus drivers, said members would not cross lines at intersections such as Phibbs Exchange.

According to TransLink Datathere were 19.26 million bus boardings in January 2023, averaging just over 620,000 per day that month, although weekdays are typically busier.

How long will the strike last?

The pressure tactics are expected to last 48 hours, meaning they will end early Wednesday.

Although CUPE 4500 represents only a small fraction of TransLink’s more than 6,000 workers, bus drivers have said they will not cross the border. the picket line in the event of a strike by their colleagues.

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North Vancouver worker can’t get to work due to strike

Marisol Villejas has been taking the SeaBus to downtown Vancouver for 15 years to work as a cleaner. On Monday, she arrived to find she wouldn’t be able to get to work because of a bus and SeaBus strike.

What alternatives do commuters have?

TransLink recommends commuters carpool, bike, walk or use park and ride at some SkyTrain stations if they are still scheduled to connect to SkyTrain service on Monday.

Top schools like the University of British Columbia have announced they would not change the courses following the strike, saying instructors will have to make arrangements for their students to learn through other means.

That prospect is not appealing to a commuter like Santiago Salamanca, who says he will be left with no other options during the strike.

“Having a taxi is expensive,” he said. “I can’t use the taxi. I prefer to use the bus or the train. It’s better for us.”

Marisol Villejas was also stranded Monday morning as she stood at the Lonsdale SeaBus terminal with a vacuum cleaner and a cart of cleaning supplies, hoping to cross the water to Vancouver where she works as a cleaner. She cried when she learned the SeaBus wouldn’t arrive.

“How can I survive here without a job?” she says.

Buses line the Vancouver transit hub as transit workers from Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 4500 strike in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, January 22, 2024.
Parked buses line Vancouver’s transportation hub Monday as transit workers with Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 4500 are on strike. (Ethan Cairns/The Canadian Press)

Why are workers striking?

The union’s collective bargaining agreement with CMBC expired in October 2022 and says the employer has failed to provide pay parity with other employees in the system and that the company does not recognize their significant workload issues.

CMBC has previously stated that the union salary demands are unrealisticand the company offered workers the same pay raise it offered thousands of its other employees.

CUPE representative Liam O’Neill previously said workers often worked more overtime than regular hours and that wages demanded by workers made up less than 0.05 per cent of the CMBC’s 2024 budget for wages and salaries.

A close up of the front of a bus with the sign saying "Not in service"
A bus near Clark Street in Vancouver is pictured in January 2018. Buses and SeaBuses will be off the roads for two days due to a transit strike that began Monday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

CMBC spokesman Mike Killeen said Monday morning that the company offered an improved pay offer over the weekend and is committed to increasing overtime pay, improving benefits social services and to hire an increased number of transit supervisors.

“So the offer we presented to them is fair, reasonable in our opinion, and we really hope that they will come back to the negotiating table. We are available at any time,” he said.

“(The strike) is a huge inconvenience for people and we strongly encourage the union to come back to the table and resolve this issue.”

Many industry bodies have expressed concern about the impact of the strike, with the Surrey Board of Trade saying in a statement on Sunday that the strike would compromise “workers, businesses and our economy”.

TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn said at a 1 p.m. news conference that Translink faces a $4.5 billion structural deficit over the next 10 years and that the union’s wage demands will cause a “ripple effect” of increased costs in the future.

“Now is not the time to fight for way more than everyone else got,” he said.

CUPE Local 4500 announces that it will hold a press briefing at 2 p.m. PT.

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