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Bus strike as early as Wednesday; union and B.C. Transit in standoff

Oct 09 2012
B.C. was served 72-hour strike notice by the union representing 650 bus drivers, mechanics and maintenance staff on Friday. 

B.C. was served 72-hour strike notice by the union representing 650 bus drivers, mechanics and maintenance staff on Friday.

Photograph by: BRUCE STOTESBURY , timescolonist.com (October 2012)

The threat of a complete public transit shutdown in Greater Victoria is still a possibility this week with talks between B.C. Transit and its employees’ union still on hold.

Canadian Auto Workers Local 333 and its employer remain in a standoff after the long weekend and a region-wide bus strike could be called as early as Wednesday if the two sides cannot come to an agreement.

Neither side has made a move to contact the other as of this morning and the union says it is ready to take job action, if B.C. Transit does not make concessions in its negotiations.

Wages and benefits are at the heart of contract talks, which ended abruptly Friday afternoon when B.C. Transit walked away and the union served 72-hour strike notice.

Both camps say they will negotiate once considerable concessions have been made, but neither appears ready to make the first move.

CAW president Ben Williams said the union was ready to talk all weekend, but “heard nothing.” Transit spokeswoman Meribeth Burton said her team is keen to return to the table as long as the union understands the corporation’s constraints.

Those constraints include the provincial government’s co-operative gains mandate, which only allows wage increases for the public sector when savings are found within the system.

Burton said those guidelines were used to settle contracts with other unions, including the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ union. Transit has said its offer was in line with those accepted by other public-sector workers in recent weeks. 

Late last month, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union won a four per cent wage increase over two years. The B.C. Nurses’ Union also settled a tentative labour deal with the province that would see a three per cent increase April 1.

“We asked CAW to reach out to other public-sector unions and try to understand the mandate and come back with realistic expectations,” Burton said. “Right now, we are nowhere near where we want to be.”

Williams said the union’s negotiating team has been forced into its position and its 650 members are prepared to strike. The union has not publicly revealed its wage demands.

CAW could have walked off the job Monday, but said bus service would continue today after the long weekend to reduce disruption for passengers. The union vowed to give 24-hour notice before taking any job action.

B.C. Transit says union members have to work today if employees want to get paid for their statutory holiday Monday.

Stopping bus service could cause considerable disruption, but Williams said talks about what a strike could look like are ongoing.

“I’d like to think we’re not going to get to that position.”

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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