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Union's overtime ban cancels nearly 40 bus trips on 10 routes

Oct 23 2012
B.C. Transit driver Graham Orr works without a uniform Oct. 10 while his route takes him along Douglas Street. 

B.C. Transit driver Graham Orr works without a uniform Oct. 10 while his route takes him along Douglas Street.

Photograph by: Darren Stone , timescolonist.com

Complaints from Greater Victoria bus riders were up Monday, largely because of cancelled trips during the first day of an overtime ban imposed by bus drivers.

Passengers felt the impact of the region’s transit strife as nearly 40 trips were cancelled on 10 routes.

General inquiry and complaint calls concerning the service average about 300 a day, but there were 500 on Monday. 

The bus drivers have stopped working overtime shifts because of a breakdown in contract negotiations between the union and B.C. Transit last week.

Monday’s job action was the latest development in contract talks that used to focus on wages and benefits, but now revolve around the purchase of high-capacity shuttle buses.

Statements made in the media have even led to threats of legal action in the dispute.

“It’s disappointing that it’s come to all this,” said Meribeth Burton, spokeswoman for B.C. Transit.

The corporation said Sunday it was not expecting significant disruption to services on Monday after juggling shifts and eliminating non-essential services, such as job training, in order to have drivers available. However, plans changed when five staff called in sick, prompting several cancellations.

By 10 a.m., there had been 17 cancellations on four routes: No. 2, 7, 14 and 50. By late afternoon, there had been 37 cancelled trips on 10 routes.

Three regular bus shifts were cancelled in addition to two shifts for special overload buses. B.C. Transit added three overload buses in September to reduce the number of people left behind at stops.

Contract negotiations between the corporation and the Canadian Auto Workers Local 333 fell apart Thursday for the second week in a row. This was largely due to the union taking issue with B.C. Transit’s purchase of 15 Vicinity buses, five of which are bound for Victoria.

The union wants the high-capacity shuttle buses to be operated by drivers with more training, saying the issue remains the largest sticking point in the failed negotiations.

“That’s the main stumbling block,” said Ben Williams, CAW 333 president.

Williams says his union’s lawyers have not made a decision about how to respond to the threat of legal action from the manufacturer of the Vicinity buses.

Grande West Transportation International took offence at several statements made by Williams and threatened to take him and the union to court unless they publicly apologize.

“There is no plan for a retraction of any kind at this point,” Williams said.

Bus drivers have also refused to wear uniforms. That poses a safety risk because a regular passenger could get behind the wheel undetected.

B.C. Transit said it is ready to go to arbitration to make a deal happen, a possible solution not ruled out by the union.

“We can certainly look at things like that,” Williams said.

For updates on service and possible disruptions, visit the website bctransit.com or check out facebook.com/bctransit and twitter.com/bctransit.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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