The president of the Greater Victoria bus drivers union has been threatened with legal action for claims he made about new high-capacity shuttle buses purchased by B.C. Transit.
Canadian Auto Workers Local 333 walked out of contract negotiations Thursday, saying the new Vicinity buses, which can carry up to 39 passengers, are unsafe because its drivers are required to have only a Class 4 licence, not the Class 2 needed to drive full-sized buses.
The breakdown has led to further job action, with the union planning a ban on overtime shifts starting Monday, which Transit said could result in more overloaded buses on many routes.
B.C. Transit plans to buy 15 of the Vicinity buses, five of which are bound for Victoria.
The union has been critical of the vehicles, which it says would use drivers who are paid less and have less training.
But Vicinity manufacturer Grande West Transportation International took offence to several statements made by union president Ben Williams and on Friday threatened to take him and the CAW to court unless they publicly apologize.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Williams said: B.C. Transit literally had to go to China and get these buses designed and built there to get around higher safety requirements that drivers hold a Class 2 licence to operate buses carrying that many passengers.
Grande Wests lawyer, Andrew LaCroix, wrote to Williams, saying, These statements are outrageous, patently false and expose you and the CAW to significant damages for defamation.
As you may know, the Vicinity bus was designed in British Columbia, has been certified by professional engineers, has met or exceeded all requirements and mandatory safety standard and physical testing and has been approved for sale by Transport Canada.
LaCroix demanded that the union publish an apology and retraction in five issues of each the Times Colonist, the Vancouver Sun and The Province newspapers.
Williams had no official comment on Saturday about how he would respond to the letter on Monday.
The unions lawyer is looking into the issue.
We never said the bus is unsafe, Williams said in an interview. Our issue has always been with the lower job classification. Drivers with lower licence classifications are now going to be driving buses that can carry up to 39 passengers.
The shuttle buses used now in Victoria have 24Â seats and their drivers must have a Class 4 licence. The Vicinity buses seats 23Â and has room for 16Â standing passengers.
The union fears that B.C. Transit will use shuttle drivers earning $20.71 an hour to operate the new higher-capacity buses on conventional routes, taking work away from Class 2 bus drivers who are paid $26.14 an hour. A Class 2 licence requires more training than a Class 4.
B.C. Transit said on Saturday that it offered to use the Vicinity buses only on community routes for the length of the contract.
Bus drivers stopped wearing uniforms last week as part of their job action, but the overtime ban will be the first to affect routes and passengers.
Transit spokeswoman Meribeth Burton said the corporation will provide regular updates on its website at bctransit.com and via social media at facebook.com/bctransitand twitter.com/bctransit so passengers have the latest information about service disruptions.
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