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Bus-strike threat shifts to Friday

Oct 10 2012
People board a bus near Camosun’s Lansdowne campus. A bus strike won’t happen before Friday, the union says. 

People board a bus near Camosun’s Lansdowne campus. A bus strike won’t happen before Friday, the union says.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford, Victoria Times Colonist , Oct. 9, 2012

Bus commuters are making alternate plans and business owners are bracing for the impact as a strike threatens to shut down Greater Victoria’s transit system.

The Canadian Auto Workers Local 333 and B.C. Transit remain in a standoff after contract talks ended abruptly on Friday, prompting the union to deliver 72-hour strike notice.

Although a strike could be called at any time, the union said it would give the public 24 hours’ notice and would not shut down services before Friday.

Any shutdown would be difficult for regular passengers. Oak Bay resident Lynden Lentz works in a coffee shop in downtown Victoria and regularly visits her boyfriend in Sooke — and she gets everywhere by bus. “A strike would be just awful,” she said. “[Transit’s] my whole life.”

A strike would also have a significant impact on college and university students, who pay for a bus pass through their fees.

On an average day, about 5,000 people use transit to get to and from the University of Victoria, including faculty and staff, according to a transit study done in 2010.

Students Marcie Callewaert and her boyfriend Mike Cosgrave have a car, but fuel costs and parking passes are too expensive on their tight budgets.

They plan to bike or walk from their home near the corner of Foul Bay Road and Fort Street.

Callewaert also splits her time between two jobs: one in downtown Victoria, the other in Saanich.

“I can’t imagine not having buses in Victoria,” she said. “The place would just shut down.”

Workers in downtown Victoria on Tuesday were also worried that nothing has been settled.

The Bay Centre alone has employees in nearly 100 stores and about 90 per cent take transit, walk or bike to work, said the centre’s general manager, Darlene Hollstein.

She and her staff are considering creating a ride-sharing program to limit use of the parkade if bus service shuts down.

“It won’t be fun coming to work if you live a ways from the downtown,” Hollstein said.

At Russell Books on Fort Street, some of the store’s 35 employees will have to carpool or find other ways to travel. “They’ll find alternate ways of coming together and making sure they can get here,” said employee Kim Wallace.

Both Transit and the union say they want to negotiate, but neither side has made any move to reconvene talks. 

Wages and benefits are at the heart of the dispute.

Transit spokeswoman Meribeth Burton said management is keen to return to the table as long as the union’s demands are attainable under the provincial government’s co-operative gains mandate, which only allows wage increases for the public sector when other savings will pay for them.

CAW 333 president Ben Williams said the union’s offer has always been similar to other agreements recently reached under that mandate. Nurses recently reached a deal that includes a three per cent wage hike, while the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ union won a four per cent increase over two years.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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