A TransLink SeaBus. (TransLink)

SeaBus services cancelled on first day of Vancouver transit dispute

Strike expected to escalate in coming months if deal not reached

The first day of job action by transit workers in Metro Vancouver caused SeaBus cancellations on a busy commuter route across the Burrard Inlet.

TransLink said seven SeaBus round trips, totalling 14 sailings, were cancelled starting Friday afternoon and into the evening. The transit authority warned commuters to expect delays and to consider using buses instead.

READ MORE: Strike action begins among Metro Vancouver transit workers

The first stage of the job action included transit workers not wearing uniforms and refusing overtime.

Unifor, the union representing 5,000 transit workers, had predicted that maintenance workers’ refusal to work overtime could affect SeaBus service between Vancouver and North Vancouver by the afternoon rush.

Mike McDaniel, president of the Coast Mountain Bus Company, said further delays were likely on the weekend with about 30 sailings expected to be cancelled on Saturday and Sunday.

Unifor is asking for an additional $608 million in wages, benefits and improvements to working conditions over 10 years, he told a news conference.

McDaniel said the company’s current offer would increase maintenance workers’ wages 12.2 per cent and transit workers’ wages 9.6 per cent over four years. It would also enhance benefits and improve working conditions.

“We are OK with offering more than what the rest of the public sector gets in British Columbia, because we need to address the specific things that we’ve looked at doing,” he said.

“What that means, though, is that this is a more than reasonable offer we have on the table.”

McDaniel urged the union to avoid a walkout and resume talks, which broke off Thursday. Union representatives have refused the company’s suggestion of a third-party mediator to resolve the dispute, he added.

If the company were to give in to the union’s demands, the cost would compromise all planned transit upgrades over the next 10 years in Metro Vancouver, he said.

“We specifically want to use this money for what everybody is asking us to do with it: expand service, help control overcrowding, give more service because the demand is increasing,” he said.

The union’s chief negotiator, Gavin McGarrigle, said the $608 million figure needs to be placed in context of a $7.5 billion plan to improve the region’s transit over the next decade.

“We support transit expansion. The company is throwing around big numbers like that but you need to place it inside a multibillion-dollar transit expansion,” he said in an interview.

He also said it wasn’t fair to compare transit workers to public-sector employees because they’re not directly employed by the provincial government. TransLink receives funding from the municipal, provincial and federal governments, as well as through a gas tax, he said.

The wages of transit workers should be compared with other jurisdictions, such as Toronto where they earn about $3 more per hour, he said.

McGarrigle also said the company has not addressed a lack of guaranteed minimum breaks for transit workers during their shifts, which are 7 1/2 hours on average.

He told a news conference earlier Friday if the dispute drags on, buses requiring maintenance will likely have to be taken off the streets, further reducing service.

McGarrigle said his members have been without a contract since March and he warned the dispute could be lengthy.

“Our members are so determined this time. We’re prepared to wait this out, and if that means six months, nine months, a year, that’s what we are going to do and we are going to make sure we get that fair contract,” he told a news conference.

The last transit strike in Metro Vancouver was in 2001 when a four-month walkout crippled the commute for hundreds of thousands of people.

The job action will not affect West Vancouver’s blue bus system, SkyTrain services, or the HandyDart service for passengers with physical or cognitive disabilities.

Unifor and Coast Mountain said they will do their best to give passengers 24- to 48-hours notice of further service disruptions.

The Canadian Press

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