No transit service for swath of Fraser Valley as bus drivers stop work amid contract dispute

Fraser Valley transit workers gather outside of Abbotsford City Hall during their strike on Monday. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Fraser Valley transit workers gather outside of Abbotsford City Hall during their strike on Monday. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Commuters relying on transit in B.C.'s Fraser Valley will be without much of their usual service Monday and Tuesday as a contract dispute between unionized bus drivers and their employer continues.

Members of CUPE 561, the union representing transit operators in Chilliwack, Abbotsford and the surrounding region, have fully withdrawn regular service for two days, though HandyDart service will not be affected.

"The big hit will be people that go from Chilliwack all the way to Lougheed Station in Burnaby — that is a very, very busy route," union president Jane Gibbons said about those affected by the strike.

"You name it: any person out there that uses transit ... seniors, kids going to school, university students, people going to church — it is virtually everybody."

Job action began earlier this month with bus drivers refusing to collect fares to back demands for higher wages, a pension plan and better working conditions.

Gibbons said in a statement the union had hoped to reach an agreement with U.S.-based First Transit without any disruption in service, but the company had other ideas.

"The employer is just not willing to move on wages at all. They just are nowhere near what our members need," she said.

Drivers rallied at Abbotsford City Hall around midday Monday.

"We can't afford to spend more time with family," said bus driver Kheireddine Boubrin. "We spend more time behind the wheel."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

In a statement, First Transit said it has put forward "a competitive and comprehensive offer that balances the needs of the growing region."

The Ohio-based company is contracted by B.C. Transit to run bus service in Chilliwack, Abbotsford and the surrounding region.

"B.C. Transit is closely monitoring the situation and sincerely apologizes to customers for the inconvenience caused by this matter. We understand the frustration felt by customers, and that the job action is difficult for everyone involved in the region," read a statement from the Crown agency, which is not involved in contract talks.

The union said its members make 32 per cent less than transit workers across the Lower Mainland, with no pension plan and long hours of standby time for which they receive less than $3 per hour.

"We're trying to make everybody aware  — the employer and the community — that just because it says B.C. Transit on those buses does not mean that everybody gets paid the same," Gibbons said.

The union has 213 members, including drivers, utility workers, bus washers and mechanics.