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'Complete shutdown': Labour minister not intervening in Metro Vancouver bus strike

Bus service is halted for 48 hours as of 3 a.m. Monday as a deal was not reached between the union and employer.

B.C. Minister of Labour Harry Bains says he is not intervening in a contract dispute between Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) and the union representing transit supervisors that has resulted in a complete shut down of bus services in Metro Vancouver on Monday.

CUPE Local 4500 went on strike at 3 a.m. on Monday for 48 hours as a deal was not reached following private mediation with Vince Ready, who is no stranger to such disputes.

Bains says he could tap Ready as a special government-appointed mediator for binding arbitration should the dispute continue.

"I think the best deal I always consider is for all parties to get back to the bargaining table and hammer out their differences and negotiate a collective agreement," the minister said Monday at a 3 p.m. press conference in Vancouver.

Bains said a special mediator has worked in the past. But Bains was not willing to say if he has a timeline for when he would intervene, especially if the strike went past two days. Nor did Bains say legislation or appointing supervisors as essential workers to be forced back to work was an option.

All buses and SeaBus halted

The strike means the full stoppage of bus and SeaBus operations across Metro Vancouver. West Vancouver Transit’s Blue Bus routes, which are staffed by members of a separate union, remain in operation, providing some mobility on the North Shore. There are also community shuttles running in Langley and on Bowen Island.

Starting Monday morning, CUPE 4500 members will have picket lines up at CMBC Transit Centres in Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, Burnaby, Port Coquitlam, and the Seabus North Vancouver Terminal. 

More than 180 transit supervisors in the Lower Mainland are represented by CUPE Local 4500. 

CUPE 4500 spokesperson Liam O’Neill said the members deserve a fair deal. 

“With the help of our mediator, CUPE 4500 put in an honest effort to find some common ground with Coast Mountain. But we are still not near where we need to be in addressing our key issues,” said O'Neill in a statement issued early Monday morning.

“For a fair settlement, CUPE 4500 members need wage discrepancies closed between them and other TransLink supervisors, and we need to tackle critical workload issues.”

O’Neill had previously stated CUPE 4500 has been waiting over four weeks for CMBC to respond to the latest proposal. 

CMBC: Union's refusal of offer 'unacceptable and unreasonable'

According to the company, supervisors have been offered a 13.5 per cent increase over three years, starting from Jan. 1, 2023, when the old three-year contract expired.

That brings a transit supervisor’s salary to $104,886, from $92,415.

The company says the union’s offer is a 25 per cent increase, to a salary of $115,477.

"Despite our best efforts to reach a compromise with CUPE Local 4500, the union representing supervisors at CMBC has refused to adjust its demand for wage increases that are more than the wage increases accepted by all other unions at CMBC and countless other public sector employees," said CMBC president and general manager Michael McDaniel in a statement Monday morning. 

"Over the weekend, Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) joined a mediator in an effort to reach an agreement with CUPE Local 4500. CMBC offered increased overtime pay, improved benefits, and committed to hiring more supervisors.
"Unfortunately, the union again refused the improved offer. This is unacceptable and unreasonable," added McDaniel.

“CUPE 4500 members are proud of the job we do for our passengers. Like them, our families and friends depend on transit too. We regret these disruptions and the challenges this will cause for the people we serve every day,” said O’Neill. “But Coast Mountain could have avoided this. Instead, they put us, and, through their inflexibility, transit users, in this situation.”

In his statement, McDaniel noted, "We remain willing to join the union at the table and urge them to accept this reasonable offer."

SkyTrain employees reporting to work Monday

The union that represents SkyTrain employees says its workers should prepare to report for work on Monday.

“This might change later in the day on Monday,” says a representative. “At this time we don’t know when that might happen."

CUPE 7000 asked its members to be patient with transit users on Monday as it is expecting "significant disruptions."

A spokesperson for TransLink says SkyTrain (Expo, Canada and Millennium Line) and West Coast Express are expected to operate as normal tomorrow.

“At this time, CUPE Local 4500 can only legally picket bus and SeaBus,” says the spokesperson. 

Kevin Quinn, CEO of TransLink, is urging the two parties to sit down and come to a deal.

“This dispute is between CMBC and CUPE Local 4500 but TransLink overseas customer impacts and the financial health of the organization,” Quinn told reporters during a press conference Monday afternoon.

"I urged the parties to return to the bargaining table and to resolve the dispute because this strike has too much impact on our customers who count on us."

Hundreds of thousands of people rely on the buses, noted Quinn.

“This is disappointing and frustrating,” he says. “This is unfair to our customers. The people of this region do not deserve to be caught in the middle of this dispute.”

When asked if the strike action will continue past 48 hours, Quinn suggested it's a question for CUPE Local 4500.

"The strike by CMBC’s union has resulted in a complete shutdown of CMBC bus and SeaBus services. These services are expected to resume on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024," indicates TransLink on its website.

Vancouver International Airport alerted travellers to the ‘impending disruption’ for both bus and SeaBus services that could affect people’s travel. 

The University of British Columbia has posted guidance for students, faculty, and staff. The campus itself is not closed, however, some courses may move online.

"The university remains open, regardless of the level of strike action, as we need to maintain key services for community members who live and work on the Vancouver campus," noted the UBC staff.

UBC noted that many students, faculty, and staff rely on public transit, and the school appreciates that a potential disruption will be challenging.