Kelowna transit union sets deadline for full scale strike

In the absence of an agreement, Kelowna transit workers say they will walk off the job and shut down Central Okanagan bus service, on Oct. 5, 2022 (Tom Popyk/CBC - image credit)
In the absence of an agreement, Kelowna transit workers say they will walk off the job and shut down Central Okanagan bus service, on Oct. 5, 2022 (Tom Popyk/CBC - image credit)

Kelowna area transit workers are pledging to walk off the job on Wednesday, Oct. 5 and shut down bus service to tens of thousands of Central Okanagan transit users.

"We have no choice but to take the strongest action that we have in our toolbox," Darrah Teitel, a union organizer with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722, told host Chris Walker on CBC's Daybreak South.

"We hope that ... the company will come to the table and negotiate with us in good faith. They will do what is necessary to fix this broken transit system."

On Aug. 28, about 240 ATU 1722 members, including drivers, maintenance and office staff, voted 97 per cent in favour of a strike.

The union has escalated job action since the beginning of September, refusing to wear company uniforms, collect fares, or work overtime.

Workers have been without a contract since March 2022.

The union says First Transit, a private American-based company contracted by B.C. Transit to provide services, tabled a proposal just eight weeks ago, offering a 1.5 per cent wage increase.  ATU 1722 members make $5 to $10 an hour less than other comparable B.C. transit systems, according to the union.

The union says First Transit hasn't responded to counter-offers and has rejected binding arbitration.

"They have not come to the table even once, so we don't know where they are, what they're thinking," said Teitel.  "But it's actually unheard of that ... a negotiating table should dissolve."

CBC News reached out to First Transit for comment but had not received a reply by the time of publication.

HandyDART service will continue

Critical transit services will continue in the event of a full-scale shutdown.

A B.C. Labour Relations Board agreement has deemed some services as "essential," including handyDART service for customers requiring transportation to renal dialysis, cancer treatment, multiple sclerosis and other specialist appointments.

B.C. Transit, the provincial Crown agency responsible for delivering transit services outside of Greater Vancouver, says two inter-regional connecting routes, Route 90 UBCO/Vernon from the Vernon Regional Transit System and Route 70 Penticton/Kelowna from the South Okanagan-Similkameen Transit System, will continue.

Tom Popyk/CBC
Tom Popyk/CBC

In a statement, it apologized to passengers for any disruptions.

"B.C. Transit understands the frustration felt by customers and that the job action is difficult for everyone involved in the region."

B.C. Transit and the City of Kelowna have faced criticism from the union for contracting out transit services.

The City of Kelowna,  regional government partners, and local First Nations have sent a letter to the labour minister requesting provincial intervention.

The Kelowna transit system consists of 29 bus routes serving residents across most of the Okanagan, including Kelowna, West Kelowna, the Westbank First Nation, Lake Country, Vernon, Peachland and Penticton.

The service  says it provides almost six million rides each year.