Comox Valley, Campbell River transit strike now underway

CHEK

After the two parties were unable to come to an agreement, the transit strike in the Comox Valley and Campbell River is now underway.

The strike began at 4:30 a.m. Friday, so now all transit service in the Comox Valley and Campbell River is suspended, except for HandyDART for essential appointments.

“We don’t take strike action lightly, but this is about fairness for our drivers, and this is about fixing the systemic problems in our transit system to provide better working conditions and quality service for the public,” said Unifor western regional director Gavin McGarrigle.

The union bargaining committee and Pacific Western Transit, the employer for the transit system in the two regions, have previously come to two tentative agreements that the union members ultimately rejected.

The most recent tentative agreement proposed a 15.5 per cent increase in wages over three years.

Pacific Western Transit is contracted by BC Transit.

“We have to look at the fact that the funding model is broken here. We have public transit that is being contracted out by BC Transit to third party companies that are taking profits out of the province,” said national Unifor representative Gavin Davies.

“A lot of the riders think these members that we have here are BC Transit employees, that they get paid the same as a bus driver in Victoria or some of the bigger systems, that they have defined benefit pension plans, and none of that is true,” he added.

“Maybe people will see that we’re serious. We don’t want to be here. It’s the worst time of year to be here. The people need us and we know that,” said Campbell River bus driver Geoff Gerhart.

“The company understands that many residents will be negatively impacted by the disruption to transit services, especially leading into the holiday season,” PWTransit said in a statement on Dec. 13. “The company believes we have taken every measure to come to an agreement at the bargaining table and avoid a strike situation.”

However, the offer also came with the introduction of a step wage, meaning new employees would start at a lower rate than others. Unifor tells CHEK News there were concerns the step wage would affect recruitment and retention, which has been an ongoing issue for the transit systems.

“When it comes to the worker shortage, the operators are tired of working massive amounts of overtime,” Davies said. “With the low rates, they don’t see new people coming into the job and then an introduction of a step rate, although the wage rates would have been somewhat higher, but now you’re introducing a step rate and they don’t see that as attracting new employees.”

“Then the wages they’re at now, they don’t see members retaining employment, they’re just going to go somewhere else.”

READ MORE FROM JUNE 2: BC Transit facing shortage of workers, delays in Comox Valley

The union says transit workers in the Comox Valley are paid less than their counterparts in other areas of the province.

Unifor Local 114 represents 75 workers members who work as transit operators, HandyDART operators, mechanics, and cleaners.

 

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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