Unifor has announced a full shutdown of buses and Seabus operations in the TransLink region for three days next week, as workers hit the picket lines.
The union blamed the shutdown on TransLink, which it accused of refusing to budge in negotiations over the upcoming contract.
“TransLink has no intention of settling a fair contract for its workers,” said Gavin McGarrigle, western regional director for Unifor.
The union will also be holding a rally on Thursday, Nov. 28 outside the TransLink offices in New Westminster. McGarrigle said Unifor expects “thousands of workers … to join us in protest against this unaccountable and arrogant transit agency.”
He said TransLink blames workers for raising taxes and transit fares but fails to account for raises given to its executives.
“We have made every effort to avoid escalating to this level,” McGarrigle said in a new conference Wednesday. “The blame lies solely and squarely with TransLink.”
The Coast Mountain Bus Company, the TransLink subsidiary that operates the buses and Seabuses, said it is "alarmed" by the action.
"It is completely unacceptable our customers are being dragged into this dispute,” said CMBC president Michael McDaniel. “Coast Mountain Bus Company is addressing the union’s complaints about working conditions as well as providing generous wage increases beyond what’s in other public sector settlements in British Columbia. The union is willing to disrupt lives of commuters to get the wages it wants."
In the proposal put forward by CMBC, the top annual wage for operators would increase by $6,100 over four years to a salary of $69,900. Skill trades workers' salaries would increase at the top level by $10,000 to a salary of $88,000.
CMBC said the union's demands would add up to $150 million in spending over 10 years in excess of what the transit authority has offered.
The escalation in the unions’ action will run from Wednesday, Nov. 27 to Friday, Nov. 29 and comes several weeks into the union’s strike mandate. The union and TransLink returned to the bargaining table last week, but those talks fell through.
McGarrigle said the transit authority “deliberately misleads” by comparing transit salaries to those of nurses and other public-sector professions in the region, rather than transit workers elsewhere. By contrast, in justifying a raise for executives, the authority compared salaries to those of other transit executives.
Meanwhile, McGarrigle said the system is failing to keep up with ever-increasing demand, with more and more overcrowding on buses over the years. He said drivers are the ones who have to deal with belligerent customers as a result.
With that in mind, McGarrigle took aim at TransLink’s planned expansion of its services.
“They don’t treat their workers fairly, and they want to expand on the basis of a broken model,” McGarrigle said.
He said picket captains are currently being trained to ensure a peaceful strike over those three days.