B.C. Transit and its union in Greater Victoria reached a tentative labour contract Wednesday. The deal means the union will not completely shut down the public transit system on Tuesday, and a months-long disruption of service will be coming to an end.
Canadian Auto Workers Local 333 called the deal a victory after B.C. Transit agreed to withdraw plans for a new controversial shuttle bus, which had become a sticking point in negotiations over the past four months.
Local 333 and its 650 drivers, mechanics and skilled trades workers pressured B.C. Transit by refusing to work overtime starting in October, leading to cancellation of dozens of bus trips each day and a backlog of repairs.
Bus drivers added more pressure by vowing a one-day shut down of the entire transit system on Tuesday.
“The overtime ban was a huge factor,” said Ben Williams, president of Local 333.
“It will take quite some time to get everything going. This will have an ongoing affect on Transit operations.”
The backlog in maintenance work was definitely a problem for B.C. Transit.
“We get to a point where we’re contemplating cutting as many as nine routes. That’s the kind of impact we do not want for our customers,” said Meribeth Burton, spokeswoman for B.C. Transit.
The union has been without a contract since March 31, and the new agreement gives employees a retroactive two per cent raise for last year and another two per cent in April this year.
Both sides hope the agreement is ratified early next week.
Bus drivers will wear their uniforms again; they had switched to civilian clothes as part of their job action.
Restoring full service will not be quick or easy with 45 buses requiring at least a day’s worth of maintenance, and others even more.
B.C. Transit can now have mechanics work overtime, but even before the job action, Transit suffered from a shortage of staff in their garages.
“This was already a problem at Transit,” Williams said.
“It will take a very long time to get everything back up to normal.”
B.C. Transit still plans to use the new 23-seat, 39-passenger Vicinity bus in other B.C. communities. The Crown corporation bought 15 buses for a trial, with plans to bring five to Victoria.
“We’re happy to partner with communities who are eager to see what the Vicinity bus can do in their communities,” Burton said.
With room for 16 more passengers than regular shuttle buses, the Vicinity allows for more flexibility on smaller routes with crowded buses, according to Transit.
But the union vehemently opposed the shuttles, saying drivers should be required to have more training and higher wages. Transit refused, saying any wage increase must come from cost savings found within the system based on the provincial government’s co-operative gains mandate.
The Vicinity became a divisive issue during negotiations that broke down several times since a strike mandate was given by Local 333 members in September.
The new contract will expire in about 14 months, meaning the Vicinity could soon be a hot topic again.
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