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Bus drivers poised to strike next week

Oct 07 2012
No walkout until after Tuesday, union says. 

No walkout until after Tuesday, union says.

Photograph by: Bruce Stotesbury, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

Greater Victoria bus drivers, mechanics and maintenance staff are poised to walk off the job next week and halt transit service across the region.

Canadian Auto Workers Local 333 served 72-hour strike notice on B.C. Transit after contract talks stalled at noon Friday.

The union's 650 members would be in a position to strike by 1 p.m. Monday.

But the union has promised it will give the public at least 24 hours notice before job action that could affect bus riders. Union president Ben Williams pledged that Tuesday's commute to and from work would not be disrupted.

"We want to make sure that people are able to return to work after the long weekend, and are able to plan their commutes accordingly," he said.

Williams said the union was forced to issue strike notice when B.C. Transit left the bargaining table after an intense week of negotiations.

"It's unfortunate, because we really did want to sit down and we believe that a settlement could be negotiated without any form of job action," he said in an interview Friday.

"We were willing to continue meeting today. We've also notified them and let them know we are ready to negotiate all weekend and any time they are ready to return to the table."

Williams said issues include wages, benefits and contracting-out language.

He declined to provide further details except to say that the union's offer is fair and reasonable.

Transit spokeswoman Meribeth Burton said the only issues are wages and benefits. "We've been in marathon sessions hoping to come to an agreement this week," she said. "B.C. Transit put its best offer on the table and it is not at all in line with what the union is proposing. So we're quite far apart."

Burton said the offer was in line with those accepted by other public sector workers in recent weeks.

"We have nowhere to go with our offer," she said.

"So it is an impasse for us."

Transit drivers earn a top hourly rate of $26.14 , while community shuttle operators earn up to $20.71. The top rate for mechanics and other tradespeople is $31.42 an hour.

CAW Local 333 members have not had a raise since April 1, 2009. The previous contract, which expired March 31, included no wage increases, in keeping with the B.C. government's net zero mandate.

Burton said there are no plans to keep operating during a strike.

"I think we have 16 managers who have their Class 2 licence, so no, we won't be able to get a service up and going," she said.

"Our staff are highly trained mechanics and operators. We value our employees, and I think we're all pretty shocked and disappointed."

A transit strike would not affect handyDART, which falls under a separate collective agreement. The service operates out of Duncan, so it would not be affected by picket lines.

Burton said the last full-blown transit strike was in 2001. It lasted two weeks before there was a negotiated settlement.

CAW 333 members voted 98 per cent in favour of strike action last month.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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