Greater Victoria bus drivers are prepared to shut down the transit system in January unless they have a new contract, but they want the public’s support before taking any drastic measures.
Representatives from both B.C. Transit and the bus drivers’ union met Monday in the first official talks since late October, but efforts to sign a new deal failed once again.
Members of Canadian Auto Workers Local 333 say they will keep buses running throughout the holidays, and they urge the public to contact local politicians to show their support for an agreement.
Local 333 president Ben Williams says his members have no more options and are ready to halt bus service in the new year.
“The only job action we have left is a shutdown of the system. We don’t know whether that will be a partial or full shutdown,” he said.
Transit officials were blindsided by Tuesday’s announcement, saying both sides agreed to a media blackout in order to quickly and quietly come to an agreement.
The largest hurdle is the controversial shuttle buses purchased by B.C. Transit. The Crown corporation bought 15 of the 23-seat, 39-passenger Vicinity buses as part of a trial across the province, with five vehicles destined for Victoria.
The union does not want the buses in Victoria unless drivers are paid higher wages. Williams said negotiators made several offers Monday, including ones that included union support for the Vicinity.
“We were ready to sign a deal,” he said. “We put several options on the table, but Transit kept changing the goalposts on us.”
B.C. Transit spokeswoman Meribeth Burton said the dispute comes down to money.
“It’s not about safety or the viability of the bus, as they have said. It’s about money,” she said.
Any wage increase is subject to the provincial government’s co-operative gains mandate, which allows increases for the public sector only when they are covered by savings within the system. “We don’t have any more money,” Burton said.
The 650 employees represented by Local 333 have refused to work overtime since Oct. 22, after one of several negotiation failures.
Several bus runs are cancelled every day because of the overtime ban, but a partial or full shutdown of the system would be far more dramatic, the union said.
Williams urged members of the public to contact the B.C. Transit board of directors and Transportation Minister Mary Polak and ask them to put pressure on B.C. Transit staff to get a deal signed.
“We believe that if the minister or local politicians get involved, a negotiated settlement definitely can be reached,” he said.
In a government-appointed independent review of the corporation this year, B.C. Transit was criticized for making decisions without adequate discussion with its municipal and regional partners.
Members of the Victoria Regional Transit Commission have said they would not weigh in on the Vicinity dispute during contract negotiations.
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