Unionized B.C. Transit workers could stage a one-day walkout on Tuesday, Jan. 22, completely halting a service that sees about 70,000 bus trips each weekday.
It will be the first time the entire region will be without transit since Local 333 of the Canadian Auto Workers walked off the job in 2001 as part of a strike that lasted two weeks.
Union president Ben Williams said he hopes the two-week notice will increase pressure on B.C. Transit to get back to bargaining. Talks broke down in December over Transit’s plan to bring in new shuttle buses. The union does not want the buses in Victoria unless the drivers are paid higher wages.
It’s “pretty outrageous” not to have a deal when the sides had unofficially agreed to several issues and were only $100,000 apart, Williams said.
“That would be union math, not B.C. Transit math,” said B.C. Transit spokeswoman Meribeth Burton. “If we took all of our community shuttle drivers and paid them conventional drivers’ (wages) that would be $1.2 million.” She said the union wants to rewrite the collective agreement that includes a negotiated two-tier wage clause.
The buses would stop from 4 a.m. Jan. 22 to 4 a.m. Jan. 23.
Among transit users most affected by the day-long strike will be the University of Victoria with 17,100 trips, two Camosun College sites with about 4,300, hospitals with more than 2,700 and Swartz Bay ferry terminal at more than 1,000.
Williams said the $1.2 million figure dates back to early negotiations in September. “In no way shape or form are we $1.2 million apart right now.”
Transit drivers earn a top hourly rate of $26.14 , while community shuttle operators earn up to $20.71. The top rate for mechanics and other tradespeople is $31.42 an hour.
The union represents 650 drivers, mechanics, maintenance and other workers. The fact that the union had a 98 per cent strike mandate four months ago but has limited its job action to an overtime ban and a uniform ban indicates how much they want a deal, Williams said.
Because of the overtime ban, dozens of trips have been cancelled every day.
Both sides say they hope the one-day walkout will be called off by renewed negotiation. Both sides blame the other for the breakdown in talks.
The union is inviting the public to rally with them on Jan. 22 outside the Victoria Regional Transit Commission meeting that day at 520 Gorge Rd. East.
Burton said the corporation is hoping for an olive branch from the union: “That would be wonderful.”
The union has been without a contact since March 31, and has not had a wage increase since 2009.
Any wage increase is subject to the provincial government’s co-operative gains mandate, which requires public sector raises to be covered by savings elsewhere.
B.C. Transit is saving substantial money in overtime pay but is creating “a huge problem” in delayed hiring and maintenance, and is down 20 bus operators, Williams said. “Even if we signed a contract tomorrow, the way the maintenance on the buses has fallen behind, they couldn’t even put full service back out on the road.”
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