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Hope for end to Victoria transit disruption fades as mediation talks collapse

Nov 02 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

Mediation between Greater Victoria bus drivers and B.C. Transit collapsed after just four hours Thursday, setting the stage for a possible increase in job action in the days ahead.

The two sides met in Vancouver with Labour Relations Board mediator Debbie Cameron in hopes of ending a dispute that has already disrupted service in the capital region.

Cameron decided the union and B.C. Transit were too far apart to reach an agreement.

“She felt that we had reached an impasse and that there was no point in continuing on,” said Ben Williams, president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 333.

“We were obviously very disappointed. We went into it thinking that the mediator could bring the two sides together and, with any luck, get a resolution and a collective agreement, and unfortunately that was not the case.”

The union will maintain its overtime ban, and drivers will still refuse to wear their uniforms, he said. “Job action will continue as it is now, and there is obviously the possibility of it increasing.”

The union has promised to provide 24 hours notice of any increase in strike activity.

B.C. Transit and the union remain at loggerheads over who should drive the new Chinese-built Vicinity shuttle buses. The union argues that they should be operated by drivers with more training and higher pay. B.C. Transit reserves the right to use drivers at a lower pay scale and with less training, the union says.

“There were different ideas that were floated from our side and they didn’t have any traction with B.C. Transit,” Williams said. 

Transit spokeswoman Meribeth Burton said the corporation is not prepared to let the union “dictate to us what our fleet purchases will be … We’re very firm. We’re not changing that position.”

She said B.C. Transit is “ready and willing to sign the collective agreement as it is with modest wage increases.”

Burton declined to be specific about those increases, but noted that most public-sector unions have settled for pay hikes of two per cent this year and another two per cent in 2013.

The union, which includes bus drivers, skilled trades and maintenance crews, has not had a contract since March 31. Talks have failed twice in the past month and the union’s 650 members stopped working overtime shifts after the second breakdown in negotiations two weeks ago.

 — with files from Derek Spalding

lkines@timescolonist.com

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