Transit strike looms for Comox Valley, Campbell River

Transit strike looms for Comox Valley, Campbell River

Buses are still running in the Comox Valley and Campbell River, but many riders are getting worried about what they’ll do Friday if transit workers go on strike.

“Well, it does put me in a bit of a quandary,” said Elizabeth Johnston, a senior using the bus in Courtenay Wednesday.

“I come on the bus three or four times a week, sometimes more. I know a lot of people in my age group who use the bus, and we’re all stuck now.”

Many students use public transit as well, including at North Island College, where international students, especially, have no other means of transportation.

“They came from another country, and for the first semester or the second semester, they don’t have their own car, and they don’t have any other choice,” said Ali Vismeh, a student from Iran.

Transit workers in Campbell River and the Comox Valley are set to walk off the job at 4:30 a.m. Friday if a deal isn’t reached.

Their union, Unifor Local 114, says its contract with the local operator, Pacific Western Transit, expired on March 31 and that the two parties haven’t been able to agree on two main points.

One is wage rates, and the other is the employer’s introduction of a “step rate” for new hires, meaning they would start at a lower rate before moving up.

Unifor says the 72 affected union members, which include bus drivers, mechanics, cleaners and support staff, have subpar wages compared to other transit workers in the province.

PWTransit is contracted by BC Transit.

“The company believes we have taken every measure to come to an agreement at the bargaining table and avoid a strike situation,” PWTransit said in a statement Wednesday.

It says union members have rejected two tentative deals that had been agreed to by the company and Unifor.

The latest one was Dec. 5, which would have provided a wage increase of 15.5 per cent over three years.

“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. It amounted to a more than 18% overall compensation increase in 3 years, with a total increase to wages of 15.5%.”

In the meantime, riders like high school student Mason Olsvik-Hutchens from Denman Island are caught in the middle.

“Isfeld doesn’t have a school bus, so I take the public bus every single day to get there, and I can’t get to school if I don’t have a bus,” Olsvik-Hutchens said.

HandyDART has been deemed an essential service and would continue during a strike.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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