Union warns of new 72-hour Metro Vancouver bus strike if deal isn't reached next week

VANCOUVER — The union representing transit supervisors for Coast Mountain Bus Company has announced it will launch a new 72-hour strike stopping Metro Vancouver buses from operating if a tentative agreement on a new contract isn't reached by next week.

The warning came after the B.C. government appointed a special mediator in a bid to resolve the dispute that prompted a two-day shutdown of bus services that ended Wednesday morning.

CUPE Local 4500 said in a statement that it welcomed the appointment of Vince Ready, but if a deal on a new contract for about 180 supervisors wasn't reached by 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 3, they would withdraw services for three days.

It also said that if the Labour Relations Board allowed it, picketing would be expanded to SkyTrain stations.

"This will effectively shut down all buses, the SeaBus, and all SkyTrain lines for three days,” union spokesman Liam O’Neill said in the statement.

“We are running out of options with Coast Mountain and TransLink. CUPE 4500 members have been more than patient, and the union has done all it can to get the fair deal our members deserve.”

A separate union that represents SkyTrain workers previously said its members wouldn't cross pickets.

Labour Minister Harry Bains said Wednesday that Ready, who is a veteran mediator, would work with two sides starting Thursday for six days.

If an agreement isn't reached by then, Ready would issue non-binding recommendations and both sides would have five days to either accept or reject the proposal, said a statement from Bains.

"With his appointment, the parties have all the tools they need to reach an agreement, and I thank them for agreeing to work with him to end this dispute," Bains said.

Strike action on Monday and Tuesday affected hundreds of thousands of commuters, as Coast Mountain provides 96 per cent of all Metro Vancouver Bus services, as well as the SeaBus across Burrard Inlet.

Bus and SeaBus drivers belong to a different union but members respected the supervisors' picket lines, halting service.

Coast Mountain said in a statement that Ready's appointment was good news for bus riders.

"We hope the union will not resume any job action while the special mediator is doing his work."

The Labour Relations Board is hearing a complaint from the union, alleging Coast Mountain unfairly tried to reduce the impact of its job action.

If the union's claim is upheld, CUPE 4500 would be allowed to picket additional sites including SkyTrain stations.

TransLink, the regional transport operator, said Coast Mountain's services resumed early Wednesday before the start of the morning rush to work and school.

Ready has already been involved in this dispute and worked with both sides last weekend before talks broke down, setting off the strike action.

The bus company said the union was demanding a 25-per-cent pay rise, while the union said Coast Mountain tried to bully it in the negotiations.

The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade said in a statement that it welcomed Ready's appointment.

"Mr. Ready’s credentials are well demonstrated, and the appointment conveys the seriousness of the dispute’s economic impact," said board president Bridgitte Anderson.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2024.

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the union wanted a deal by next Wednesday. In fact, it wants the deal next week.