Here's why North Shore residents are bearing brunt of Unifor's limited job action in transit dispute

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Every day this week, TransLink has announced a significant number of SeaBus sailing cancellations.

      Today, there will be 16 of them, starting at 7:20 a.m. from Lonsdale Quay and ending with a 9:01 p.m. trip from Waterfront Station.

      Some might wonder why North Shore residents are being singled out for punishment in the dispute between Unifor, which represents transit workers, and TransLink, which owns Coast Mountain Bus Company.

      Unions and management don't always like to telegraph their strategies to the public during a labour dispute. So here's my attempt at an explanation.

      First off, I highly doubt that Unifor's leadership has any malice toward North Shore residents.

      It's simply because the SeaBus is a very visible target.

      Cutting some sailings isn't going to cripple the transit system. 

      But it keeps dispute in the public eye while still enabling everyone to reach their destinations, even if there are slight delays.

      The SeaBus is also within easy reach of the downtown Vancouver media, so eliminating a few trips each day will invariably generate coverage.

      Secondly, trimming SeaBus service doesn't affect bus drivers in Unifor Local 111, who make significantly less money than the skilled trades in Unifor Local 2200. 

      Those Local 2200 members, who earn about $78,000 per year, are not working overtime as part of the union's limited job action.

      The transit operators, who make about $63,000 without overtime, are simply not wearing their uniforms. They aren't suffering financial consequences—yet.

      Thirdly, the union probably wants to avoid inconveniencing students in the early stages of its dispute with management.

      Once students feel the sting of a transit strike, the public is more likely to turn against Unifor.

      As the tweet below shows, Unifor is already trying to win the support of transit riders by talking to commuters at the two SeaBus stations.

      North Shore residents who want to reach UBC's Point Grey campus or SFU's Burnaby Mountain campus can get there by bus, even if the entire SeaBus service didn't operate.

      Students can still reach Capilano University's main North Shore campus from Burnaby on the 130 bus or via Vancouver by going through Phibbs Exchange or over the Lions Gate Bridge and transferring to another bus.

      Keep in mind that Capilano University has slightly more than 10,000 students.

      That's significantly lower than the number attending all other public postsecondary institutions in the region with the exception of Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

      The union negotiators' big stick is a bus strike—but launching this immediately has the potential to cause a monumental public backlash. 

      So from its perspective, it's better to engage in small actions for now to turn the screws on management while generating public support.

      TransLink is also trying to act like the public's best friend. This week, it offered free service to veterans on Remembrance Day.

      The union's next step might be an overtime ban for bus drivers. That will start to affect TransLink's fare revenue as service levels start to diminish.

      If there isn't a settlement, the real crunch could come after students have completed their exams. At UBC, exam schedule is between December 3 and 18.

      If I'm right, that means the union might not launch a full-scale strike until the week before Christmas—at the peak of shopping season.

      It would spare the students, making the union look more considerate, but cause all sorts of problems for the business community.

      Plus, it would ruin the holiday season for TransLink's managers, who would have to explain to family and friends why they're being so inconvenienced at that time of the year.