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Maintenance overtime ban sidelines B.C. Transit buses as labour dispute continues in Victoria

Nov 06 2012
People line up for a bus on their way to the University of Victoria. 

People line up for a bus on their way to the University of Victoria.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam , Times Colonist

A growing maintenance backlog at B.C. Transit has forced the corporation to shut down some Greater Victoria buses indefinitely as an overtime ban implemented by employees takes its toll.

At least 10 buses will be taken off the road indefinitely as of Tuesday and the number of vehicles needing significant servicing continues to grow during the ongoing job action.

Mechanics are keeping up with smaller, regular maintenance jobs, but any work requiring several days in the shop can no longer be completed, said Meribeth Burton, spokeswoman for B.C. Transit.

“We’re at a tipping point now. There won’t be any shortage of buses on the road as of Tuesday, but B.C. Transit is worried about the cumulative effects,” she said. 

The 650 members of Canadian Auto Workers Local 333 implemented an overtime ban Oct. 22 as part of job action stemming from a contract dispute with B.C. Transit.

The ban includes work being done by skilled trades and maintenance staff.

The backlog is not surprising, said union president Ben Williams, since B.C. Transit was already short mechanics before the job action started.

Transit has since filled two positions, bringing its total maintenance staff to 45, said Burton, adding the industry is extremely competitive.

Williams said B.C. Transit’s maintenance department has been “drastically understaffed” for the past few years.

“We were told we were down 10 mechanics,” said Williams, who criticized the wages paid Transit mechanics. 

B.C. Transit mechanics make $31.42 an hour, he said — far less than heavy-duty mechanics at other employers in Victoria and on the Lower Mainland.

The union has been without a contract since March 31.

Talks for a new agreement have failed twice in the past month and the union stopped working overtime shifts after the second breakdown in negotiations two weeks ago.

A session with a mediator in Vancouver last week lasted only four hours before talks broke off again.

What used to be a disagreement over wages and benefits has evolved into a stalemate over B.C. Transit’s purchase of 15 shuttle buses, five of which will be used in Victoria.

The union wants the Vicinity buses to be operated by drivers with more training and higher pay.

Bus drivers not working overtime has resulted in the cancellation of more than 600 trips in less than two weeks.

That has taken its toll on ridership, which Burton says has dropped more than three per cent from the same period last year. 

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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