Greater Victoria mayors accused B.C. Transit of intentionally trying to goad bus drivers into an all-out strike today by showcasing a prototype of its controversial new shuttle bus.
The Crown corporation put the 23-seat, 39-passenger Vicinity bus on display at its headquarters on Gorge Road at 11 a.m., drawing anger and criticism from its union and the Victoria Regional Transit Commission.
The Vicinity bus has become the single sticking point in contract negotiations, which broke down several times in the past two months, leading to an overtime ban by Canadian Auto Workers Local 333 and its 650 drivers, mechanics and skilled trades workers.
Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard was furious with B.C. Transit management for organizing the surprise media event today.
Theres something wrong culturally if management thinks this is appropriate, he said. To poke the union members in midst of a labour dispute ... it just flabbergasts me. This runs contrary to the interest of our customers who are going to suffer if theres further job action.
B.C. Transit purchased 15 Vicinity buses as part of a trial across the province with five vehicles destined for Victoria. With room for an additional 16 standing passengers, the Vicinity bus requires no more training than shuttle buses already in the fleet, says B.C. Transit CEO and president Manuel Achadinha.
Local 333 president Ben Williams disagrees, saying the union has every right to negotiate wages and training levels for operators on any new bus.
Transit commission members refused to discuss the Vicinity bus at a meeting this month in order to respect labour talks. Members were were caught by surprise today when B.C. Transit informed them at 9 a.m. about the 11 a.m. event.
B.C. Transit spokeswoman Meribeth Burton said she started making calls Oct. 18 to get the prototype delivered to Victoria, but the plan was never discussed with the union or the commission.
Achadinha said he did not expect anyone to get upset.
Its an opportunity for everyone to look at it. Im hoping it educates people, he said. We had a very short window to bring it to Victoria ... and we took it.
Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin, who is also a member of the commission, says B.C. Transits move was an obvious publicity stunt aimed to provoke the union.
Im disappointed they went ahead with this. We were not aware it was scheduled to come here, he said. The Vicinity has become a single-point contract issue between management and the union at this time, so I dont think this bodes well for labour relations.
The union said further job action is a possibility, but they would give notice before making any decision.
Its just another one of those things where B.C. Transit is trying to inflame the issue, Williams said.
The Vicinity bus prototype will be on display during the next week as management takes it to various locations throughout the city.
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