Transit workers in the Comox Valley and Campbell River have issued a 72-hour strike notice with a full withdrawal of services set to start Friday morning.
As of Friday at 4:30 a.m., transit in the two regions will cease after the union served its notice.
The union says its contract with the local operator, PWTransit, expired on March 31, 2023. The union, Unifor Local 114, says contract negotiations failed between the company and the union.
HandyDART will still be available for people who need it for essential services, like medical appointments, but otherwise all transit will be withdrawn.
Gavin Davies, national staff representative for Unifor, says the two parties could not come to an agreement about two main points.
“The outstanding issues are the wage rates, as well as an employer’s introduction of a step rate for new hires,” Davies told CHEK News in a phone interview. “[A step rate would mean] you would come in at a lower rate, and then after a period of time you would go to another rate, and then eventually the top rate.”
“You would have two people doing the exact same job making dollars an hour different.”
Davies says the parties have gone through multiple rounds of negotiations and worked with a mediator.
Comox Valley and Campbell River transit systems have been dealing with staff shortages for months, including resulting in a reduction of service due to inadequate staffing over the summer.
“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.”
On Wednesday, PWTransit said the company is disappointed that the union members rejected a second tentative agreement reached between the employer and the union bargaining committee. The first tenatative agreement was reached on Nov. 21, then the second on Dec. 5.
“The tentative deal of December 5th offered a small increase in compensation over and above the first tentative agreement and represents a higher guaranteed total percentage increase to wages than the BC Public Sector Union employees recently received over a similar three-year period,” PWTransit said in a statement.
“It amounted to a more than 18% overall compensation increase in 3 years, with a total increase to wages of 15.5%.”
“Unfortunately, right now we are not able to offer a timeline for a return to regular bus service. However, we will continue to use any means at our disposal in the collective bargaining process to bring the labour disruption to an end as soon as possible.”
BC Transit says it is monitoring the situation in the Comox Valley and Campbell River.
“BC Transit is closely monitoring the situation and sincerely apologizes to customers for the inconvenience caused by this matter,” BC Transit said in a statement. “We understand the frustration felt by customers, and that the job action is difficult for everyone involved in these communities.”
BC Transit is the Crown agency responsible for transit in all areas of the province except for Greater Vancouver. Outside of Greater Victoria, BC Transit contracts out the operation of transit to local companies, who hire and manage their own workforces.