Metro Vancouver transit workers ratify deal with Coast Mountain Bus Company

VANCOUVER — Metro Vancouver transit workers have voted to ratify a three-year collective agreement with Coast Mountain Bus Company.

Members of Unifor Locals 111 and 2200 voted on the agreement Thursday night.

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The union and company reached a tentative deal last week, averting a planned full system strike.

Unifor said the 5,000 members will see improvements to wages, benefits, and working conditions as a result of the agreement.

It marks the end of a transit dispute that lasted more than one month.

Unifor western regional director Gavin McGarrigle says transit workers should be very proud of what they accomplished.

"Our members took collective action to reach this deal but public outreach and support was critical to getting the employer to understand the broad support for our contract proposals," he said in a release.

Michael McDaniel, president of Coast Mountain Bus Company, said in a statement that the vote ends a "challenging period for the company, our employees, and customers."

Drivers and maintenance workers will see wage increases of up to three per cent.

The agreement includes adjustments to achieve wage parity for Coast Mountain Bus Company skilled trades workers with SkyTrain skilled trades workers and increases in a variety of benefits and shift premiums, it said.

The contract also sets out guaranteed minimum rest and recovery allowances of 45 minutes and stronger language designed to improve washroom break access and facilities.

Job action started on Nov. 1 when mechanics refused to work overtime. The dispute escalated with transit operators refusing overtime after talks collapsed Nov. 14. Then, Unifor turned up the heat, warning of a complete shutdown if a deal could not be reached.

Transit officials said at the time that 350,000 people used the bus and SeaBus system every day in Metro Vancouver. It warned a full strike could cause chaos during the morning and afternoon commutes.

Before the deal was reached, Unifor complained that an offer from Coast Mountain Bus Company, the operator of bus and SeaBus services, wasn't comparable to salaries in other major cities.

Kevin Desmond, CEO of TransLink, the authority responsible for the entire transportation network in Metro Vancouver, countered that the wage offer was based on market conditions.

Coast Mountain said an early offer in November included guaranteed recovery time for drivers and a wage increase of about $6,100 over the next four years, amounting to an annual salary of $69,000.

Under that proposal, the annual wage for skilled-trades workers at the company would have gone up by about $10,000 over four years, bringing their yearly earnings to $88,000.

This isn't the only labour dispute that threatened to stall commuters in Metro Vancouver.

Mediation talks began Nov. 25 between the union representing 900 SkyTrain workers and TransLink's BC Rapid Transit Company.

The CUPE 7000 members voted in favour of strike action if a contract can't be reached.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2019.

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