Union Rep "Removed" After Condemning RAV

A union representative has claimed that the Canadian Auto Workers "removed" him as a spokesperson after he refused to endorse the B.C. Federation of Labour's position on TransLink's three-year strategy and 10-year outlook.

Bus driver Jim Houlahan told the Straight that he was instructed last year to write and present CAW Local 111's views at a December 9 TransLink meeting. For the past several years, Houlahan has spoken on behalf of his union at various city council and TransLink meetings.

Houlahan, a former union president, said that his local had previously opposed the $1.5-billion-to-$1.7-billion RAV project because it was a huge expenditure of public money that would do very little to reduce congestion.

"This line is not a good investment," Houlahan said. "It's not good for bus riders and for my local."

However, he said, the B.C. Federation of Labour had already decided it would support TransLink's three-year strategy and 10-year outlook, which included $370-million for the RAV project.

"When I recognized...that I couldn't say what was necessary to represent my local's interest without running into a contradiction or conflict with the Fed position--and made them [CAW] aware of this problem--I was removed as speaker," Houlahan said.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair and CAW national director Anne Davidson did not return calls from the Straight by deadline.

A February 26 B.C. Federation of Labour news release urged Greater Vancouver Regional District directors to support TransLink's plan, which passed by a single vote the next day. Sinclair claimed in the release that if the plan wasn't approved, "those who depend on public transit will suffer the most."

Houlahan made several public presentations last year stating that the RAV project will not come close to achieving its targeted ridership of 100,000 per day. He has argued that this will result in huge public subsidies, leading to funding cuts to the bus system that will harm transit users.

CAW Local 111 president Don MacLeod gave the presentation to the TransLink board supporting the overall plan but criticizing the number of new buses. MacLeod told the Straight that his union's political-action committee, which included Houlahan, endorsed the B.C. Federation of Labour's position.

"I still have the same concerns about RAV that we raised initially," he said. However, MacLeod claimed that TransLink would have cut bus-service hours next September if the three-year plan wasn't approved.

Andy Ross, a vice-president of the Office and Professional Employees' International Union Local 378, told the Straight that his union also publicly opposed the RAV project last year before the TransLink board.

Ross, who also chaired the B.C. Federation of Labour transportation committee, said that if GVRD directors didn't approve the funding in the three-year transportation plan, TransLink would have cut bus operations and bought fewer new buses.

"Our concern was if the plan went down, we don't believe that would kill RAV," Ross said.

OPEIU Local 378 and CAW Local 111 each ratified contracts with TransLink or its subsidiaries calling for an eight-
percent wage increase over three years. CUPE 7000, which represents SkyTrain workers, received a slightly larger increase. Ross said there was no agreement with TransLink to support the three-year plan in return for wage hikes.

The 10-year outlook proposes increasing the bus fleet from 1,200 to 1,600 by 2013. A previous TransLink plan, which was cancelled with the defeat of the vehicle levy, proposed increasing the bus fleet to 1,800 by 2006.

Houlahan criticized labour leaders for putting pressure on Coalition of Progressive Electors councillors Fred Bass, Tim Louis, and Anne Roberts. They opposed the three-year strategy and 10-year outlook for undermining transit service. "Those people were hung out to dry, and that pisses me off," Houlahan said. "Hats off to them for standing strong to that pressure."

TransLink announced last October that it would buy 228 trolley buses from Winnipeg-based New Flyer Industries Ltd., which has workers represented by the Canadian Auto Workers.

Less than two months after TransLink approved the purchase, New Flyer's controlling shareholder, U.S. ­based KPS Special Situations Fund, announced the sale of New Flyer to U.S. ­based Harvest Partners. KPS states on its Web site (www.kpsfund.com/) that it has worked "constructively" with major industrial and service unions in the United States and Canada, sponsoring many transactions in partnership with unions.