West Vancouver bus drivers to hold strike vote

“It’s annoying because the wealthiest municipality in Canada isn’t able to treat their workers fairly,” said union president Cornel Neagu.

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Fed-up West Vancouver bus drivers are set to hold a strike vote next month after negotiations stalled, said its union.

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About 150 Blue Bus bus operators, mechanics and service workers represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 134 will decide on July 19 if they are ready to take job action. Results and any immediate next steps are expected to be announced at a news conference the next day.

Three years ago, union members voted to ratify a collective agreement by a slim 51 versus 49 per cent margin. That contract expired March 31.

“The morale and the anger is double than it used to be three years ago,” said union president Cornel Neagu. “I expect a very strong strike vote.”

Wages and working conditions, including breaks, are a sticking point.

“West Vancouver District Council apparently thinks Blue Bus drivers don’t need or deserve washroom breaks or turnaround time at the end of their runs — but all other Metro Vancouver bus drivers employed by Coast Mountain Bus Company have those breaks,” Neagu said.

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The union wants improvements in working conditions and guaranteed recovery time and washroom breaks, similar to the collective agreement made by Coast Mountain Bus Company and their drivers in a last-minute deal in 2019, he said.

He also pointed out that Blue Bus shuttle drivers are paid $3.30 an hour less than their Metro counterparts.

“We are treated very bad,” said Neagu. “It’s annoying because the wealthiest municipality in Canada isn’t able to treat their workers fairly.”

Talks with a mediator started in April but broke off on June 15.

Neagu accused the district of dragging its heels when it comes to negotiations.

In February, the union filed a complaint with the Labour Relations Board to get the district to the table. In a statement, the District of West Vancouver said it’s available to start bargaining at any time. It pointed out that the union’s complaint was dismissed by the board because the district was in the process of arranging bargaining dates and the contract hadn’t yet expired at the time.

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District spokeswoman Donna Powers said the contract for Blue Bus is tied to Coast Mountain Bus Company’s contract and offers equivalent wage increases of three per cent for transit employees and five per cent for skilled trades. It also offers a proposed increase on top of the three per cent for community bus drivers to address the wage gap.

Powers said the district is proposing to investigate scheduling changes on runs where the union has required additional recovery time for breaks.

“The proposed contract is for a period of one year, which would allow employees to receive wage increases immediately and address remaining concerns within a short time frame,” she said.

The last full-scale transit strike in Metro was in 2001 and lasted four months. In 2016, West Vancouver Blue Bus operators staged a one-day work stoppage.

Earlier this month, a 136-day strike by bus operators along the Sea to Sky corridor ended after mediator Vince Ready recommended a cost-of-living adjustment to a tentative deal.

chchan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/cherylchan

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