Coast Mountain Bus Company drivers vote 99 percent in favour of giving Unifor a strike mandate

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      Employees of TransLink's wholly owned bus subsidiary have ramped up pressure in their demands for a new contract.

      On Thursday (October 10), Coast Mountain Bus Company workers voted 99 percent in favour of giving their union, Unifor, a strike mandate.

      Unifor Local 111 represents 3,700 transit operators in Metro Vancouver. Unifor Local 2200 has 1,000 skilled-trades and support workers with Coast Mountain Bus Company.

      The union would have to give 72 hours' strike notice before walking off the job.

      “The system overload is impacting breaks and recovery time in between trips as drivers struggle to maintain service,” Unifor western regional director Gavin McGarrigle said in a news release. “The end result is overworked drivers and that’s a serious safety issue that must be dealt with at the table.”

      In 2018, TransLink reported an eight percent increase in boardings on the bus system. The union has claimed that there was a 36 percent increase in "overcrowded bus trips" from 2016 to 2018.

      The workers' contract with Coast Mountain Bus Company expired on March 31. According to the union, negotiations are scheduled to resume on Tuesday (October 15).

      “The possibility of a strike is not taken lightly by the workers,” Unifor Local 111 president Balbir Mann said. “We will continue to negotiate in good faith but we are prepared to take action if it proves necessary to obtain a fair contract that will allow our members to continue to deliver award-winning service to the public.”

      The most recent contract on the Unifor Local 2200 website reveals that transit operators with two years experience are paid $32.61 per hour. Mechanics, machinists, electricians, bodypersons, farebox-maintenance mechanics, electronic technicians, welders, tirepeople, and painters who had completed four-year apprenticeships are paid $40.09 per hour.

      In 2016, Unifor Locals 111 and 2200 voted 98 percent to give the union a strike mandate. At that time, the union said transit operators were being paid $30.91 per hour, which it said was below the national average.

      A different union, MoveUP, represents operational, scheduling, and administrative services staff at Coast Mountain Bus Company. Its contract expired on March 31.

      The longest transit strike in recent history occurred in 2001, when Unifor workers walked off the job for four months.

      Since then, Unifor has split from the Canadian Labour Congress.

      As a result, it cannot expect to receive as much support from other unions as the public is witnessing in the Vancouver hotel workers' strike.

      The B.C. Federation of Labour has called on its members to boycott four downtown Vancouver hotels—the Westin Bayshore, Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Hyatt Regency, and Pinnacle Vancouver—that are the sites of job action.

      Meanwhile, the BCGEU has provided a $3-million loan to Unite Here Local 40 to support the hotel workers.

      "Strikes are powerful tools—they disrupt employers' operations, they get the public engaged in workers' rights and they build solidarity—but they cost money," BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said earlier this week. "This loan will help make sure that Unite Here Local 40 members can afford to stay out on strike as long as it takes to achieve collective agreements that give them the safety, stability, and fair compensation they deserve."