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The Vancouver Transit Strike, Explained

Around 5,000 bus drivers and maintenance workers began job action on Nov. 1
Passengers board a bus in downtown Vancouver, Friday, November, 1, 2019.
Passengers board a bus in downtown Vancouver, Friday, November, 1, 2019.

VANCOUVER — On Nov. 1, transit workers in Metro Vancouver officially went on strike after negotiations between Unifor Local 111 and 2200 and the Coast Mountain Bus Company — an offshoot of TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s governing body of public transit — broke down.

This means that for the first time in almost two decades, 5,000 bus drivers and maintenance workers in the region are beginning escalating job action. It’s a big deal — workers are fighting to ratify a new contract with improved benefits, wages and break time, and hundreds of thousands of daily transit users could very soon not have a way to get around.

There are a lot of questions around what could be one of Metro Vancouver largest labour disputes in a long time. Here they are, answered. We’ll keep this post updated as the strike evolves.

What’s the latest news?

On Nov. 15, the union escalated job action to include a ban on overtime work for bus drivers. This will impact 10 per cent of routes and commuters are being advised to plan for an extra 10-15 minutes on their trips. The union has also said a full strike is growing more likely following the most recent negotiations.

Nov. 1 marked the official start of job action from the union following a breakdown of contract negotiations. Workers refused overtime hours, and will not wear uniforms with the Coast Mountain Bus Company logo. If a contract is not ratified in the days and weeks ahead, the size and impact of the action will likely grow.

Who is going on strike?

Over 5,000 Metro Vancouver bus drivers, Seabus operators and maintenance workers represented by Unifor Local 111 and 2200 are involved.

WATCH: Vancouver transit wedding. Story continues below.

Skytrain operators and other Translink employees are not included in this strike. However, CUPE Local 7000, the union representing 900 SkyTrain workers, says contract negotiations with management have reached a deadlock and strike action could be possible in the future.

Workers from the Unifor 111 and 2200 have been without a contract since March 31. Talks between the union and management broke down this month and the job action began Nov. 1.

Why are they striking?

The union is asking for improvements to driver benefits, salary and working conditions. Drivers argue that their pay is not competitive with similar jobs in the private sector.

One of the biggest sticking points is scheduling and time. The union says many bus routes are not scheduled with enough breaks for drivers to eat or use the washroom. It is calling on the company to hire upwards of 1,500 more drivers to take some of the burden off.

Similarly, the union is seeking more assurance of driver safety. Earlier this week a video emerged of a passenger violently kicking down the door of a bus and spitting on the driver, which it says is an example of the kind of risk drivers face every day.

Coast Mountain Bus Company president Mike McDaniel told reporters Nov.1 the company’s current offer includes about 12 additional minutes to the existing 48 minutes of scheduled break time throughout the day for bus drivers scheduled for 7.5 hours or more.

McDaniel also says the company plans to hire 1,300 additional drivers in the next two years for new bus routes and those that need more service.

Why isn’t my bus driver wearing their uniform?

Not wearing uniforms is the first step in what could become escalating job action. It’s a tactic meant to make riders aware of the strike without disrupting essential service.

Other steps can be taken to avoid a full stoppage. Earlier this year, for example, Winnipeg bus drivers starting offering free fares to passengers as a way to financially pressure the company during contract negotiations.

WATCH: Ontario public elementary school teachers vote in favour of strike. Story continues below.

Will my commute be affected?

If the strike continues, it likely will.

Fourteen sailings of the Seabus, which connects downtown Vancouver with North Vancouver, were cancelled Friday afternoon. During rush hour, that means frequency went down to once every 15 minutes instead of once every 10 as workers refuse to work overtime. McDaniel said 30 sailings would also be cancelled on Saturday and Sunday.

If the strike escalates, bus service could be affected as well. Students and staff at the areas two largest universities — the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University – are most likely to be impacted. Both are served by high-volume express bus lines and both are nowhere near other transit options.

A bus is pictured in downtown Vancouver, Friday, November, 1, 2019.
Jonathan Hayward/ THE CANADIAN PRESS
A bus is pictured in downtown Vancouver, Friday, November, 1, 2019.

The 99 B-Line which goes to UBC is the busiest bus route in North America with over 56,000 people riding it every day. If service is slowed or cancelled, thousands of students will be impacted.

On its website, UBC advises students to check their syllabus and “contact your instructor if you are concerned about potentially arriving late for classes or missing classes.”

Have they gone on strike before?

Yes! The last Vancouver transit strike happened in 2001 and lasted a record-breaking 123 days. During that strike, drivers refused to drive buses, stopping service completely. Coast Mountain initially offered an eight per cent wage increase over three years to $22.70 per hour, while the union wanted an 18 per cent increase over three years to $23.36 per hour.

The strike ended when the provincial government introduced legislation that forced workers back to work. The settlement involved wage increases of 8.5 per cent for drivers and mechanics over three years, plus a $1,000 signing bonus.

How will this end?

Either it will end with the two sides coming to an agreement and ratifying a new contract, or with back-to-work legislation similar to the one introduced in 2001.

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