A labor dispute between the District of West Vancouver and its Blue Bus drivers and mechanics is beginning to impact service levels for transit riders.
The 150 members of Local 134 of the Amalgamated Transit Union began industrial action on Saturday July 23, following a 99% strike vote earlier in the week. Currently, the union has banned its members from working overtime and drivers and mechanics now report to work wearing their union t-shirts, not their Blue Bus uniforms.
According to the district, about 12% of scheduled service had to be canceled on Monday. Most of the service cuts occurred on routes 255 Dundarave-Capilano University and 250A Horseshoe Bay-Downtown. When deciding which rides will be canceled, dispatchers can choose to reduce frequency on well-serviced routes or cancel service entirely on quieter routes, district spokeswoman Donna Powers said. Overtime is regularly used to cover holidays, increased service during peak periods, delays due to traffic congestion and sick leave.
On Monday, ATU Local 134 President Cornel Neagu said only two mechanics were on the job instead of the usual six. This meant that 40% of the Blue Bus fleet was parked, awaiting required maintenance before the buses could be put back on the road.
And it looks like things will get worse before they get better.
Neagu accused the district of calling the contingent of part-time Blue Bus drivers and encouraging them to come and cover shifts.
“From a union point of view, this is an escalation of our conflict. It’s hostile,” he said. “They are desperate to cover the job. They don’t want to cancel anything.
If it continues, Neagu said it could lead to a full work stoppage.
“We are ready to serve the 24 hour notice to the labor board and our employer and we are ready to go on strike. I don’t want to do this,” he said. “A week ago, I was convinced that I could reach an agreement with my employer without launching an all-out strike. Now my confidence is less than 50 percent.
Powers, meanwhile, said the union and the district reached an agreement not to bring in part-time staff.
At stake in the labor dispute are the salaries of the union’s 40 shuttle drivers and the guaranteed break times listed in the timetable after each full trip. The ATU says TransLink’s Coast Mountain Bus Co. shuttle drivers are paid $3.30 more per hour than Blue Bus shuttle drivers.
Guaranteed scheduled breaks are a ‘strike issue’ for members because it’s a health and safety issue, and because they’re the ones who bear the brunt of passengers’ frustrations when buses run late, said John Callahan, Vice President of ATU International. President.
The union’s contract with West Vancouver expired in March. The two sides haven’t negotiated since June 15, when the district negotiator presented an offer that included a 5% raise for skilled trades, 3% for other transit workers and a bigger raise for shuttle drivers, she said. .
“The district’s first offer was pretty close, and there’s definitely an opportunity to work things out, but there wasn’t a counter offer or anything,” Powers said.
Both sides have expressed a desire to avoid a full-scale strike, although both also seem to be waiting for the other to make the next opening.
“We really hope it doesn’t come to that. Work stoppages are a bit of a loser,” Powers said.
Powers said the best way to know whether or not your bus is running on time is to visit TransLink’s website or mobile app and check for service alerts. It’s been a challenge for seniors who don’t carry smartphones, Powers conceded, so district staff have fielded calls from transit users who don’t know how to check the live schedule.
The union’s local last went on full strike in 2016 for a day before a deal could be reached.
The Blue Bus typically carries around 18,000 passengers per day.