Contract negotiations broke down this week between TransLink's wholly owned bus company and the union that represents transit operators and maintenance staff.
“Months of talks have failed to produce any meaningful mandate to address wages, benefits and working conditions,” Unifor national president Jerry Dias said on the union website. “Our members have been working without a contract since March 31 and Coast Mountain [Bus Company] has still to come to the table with an offer that addresses the key issues.”
As a result, Unifor Locals 111 and 2200 plan to hold a strike vote on Thursday (October 10).
A strike vote would give the union a mandate to launch job action, but that can only be done after it gives the employer 72 hours' strike notice.
Under the Labour Relations Code, Labour Minister Harry Bains can order that "essential services" continue to be provided if the dispute poses a threat to the health, safety, or welfare of B.C. residents.
Under the law, the Labour Relations Board or Bains can appoint a mediator to confer with the parties before any job action has taken place.
Employers can also make a "last offer" and request a vote among employees prior to any strike or lockout.
It's illegal for an employer to hire replacement workers under the Labour Relations Code in B.C.
The union's plan to hold a strike vote comes less than two months after the American Public Transportation Association awarded the 2019 Outstanding Public Transportation Achievement Award to TransLink.
The APTA cited TransLink's 18 percent increase in ridership from 2016 to 2018.
In 2018, TransLink reported a record 437.4 million boardings. The highest increase, eight percent, occurred on buses, compared to seven percent for West Coast Express, six percent for SeaBus, and 5.7 percent for SkyTrain.
Earlier this year, TransLink announced that it will launch five new RapidBus routes in the region. They will move 12,000 customers per hour during rush hour.
Unifor, however, has accused Coast Mountain Bus Company of "failing to address a serious understaffing issue".
The union's western regional director, Gavin McGarrigle, claimed that overcrowded bus trips have risen by 36 percent from 2016 to 2018.
“TransLink won this award in part because of the on-time service of our members, but what the company isn’t recognizing is that level of service was achieved due to lack of proper breaks and recovery time between trips,” McGarrigle said in the news release.
Under the leadership of Dias, Unifor cut its ties to the Canadian Labour Congress last year.
Unifor, which is Canada's largest private-sector union, claimed that the CLC had failed to address U.S.-based unions interfering in elections at Canadian locals.
Another union, MoveUP, represents operational, scheduling, and administrative services workers at Coast Mountain Bus Company. Its contract expired on March 31.
MoveUp and CUPE Local 7000 represent SkyTrain workers.
Meanwhile, West Vancouver Blue Bus operators are represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 134. Its members went on strike for a week in 2016—marking the first transit strike in West Vancouver in a century.
Last year, TransLink hired former Pacific National Exhibition president and CEO Mike McDaniel to become president and general manager of its bus company.
Complicating matters for both parties in the dispute is the imminent arrival of ride-hailing service to Metro Vancouver. It remains to be seen what impact that will have, if any, on ridership on the bus service and overall revenue for TransLink.
The last major strike at Coast Mountain Bus Company occurred in 2001.
This came not long after the Canadian Auto Workers (now Unifor) replaced the U.S.-based Amalgamated Transit Union as representatives of Coast Mountain Bus Company transit operators and maintenance staff.
That walkout lasted four months, creating widespread chaos and anger and contributing to some businesses going bankrupt.
Eventually, the new B.C. Liberal government introduced legislation to end the strike. By then, the union and management had reached an agreement on wages but had not settled other issues, including contracting out.
The chair of TransLink at the time, then Vancouver councillor George Puil, was vilified by those who blamed him for the shutdown of bus service. Protesters dumped manure in front of his house and he and most of his fellow NPA candidates were trounced in the 2002 election.