Deal to end Sea-to-Sky bus strike greeted with relief from union, company, community

·3 min read
Sea-to-Sky bus workers picket in front of PW Transit's Squamish, B.C., facility in early June. The workers' union says a deal to end the strike has been ratified and the company has told CBC it has accepted the deal. (Liam Britten/CBC - image credit)
Sea-to-Sky bus workers picket in front of PW Transit's Squamish, B.C., facility in early June. The workers' union says a deal to end the strike has been ratified and the company has told CBC it has accepted the deal. (Liam Britten/CBC - image credit)

A deal has been reached to end the longest transit strike in B.C. history, both the union and employer have confirmed.

Unifor, the union representing striking Sea-to-Sky bus drivers and related workers in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton said its workers voted to ratify a deal Tuesday to end the lengthy strike.

A spokesperson for the employer, PW Transit, a B.C. Transit contractor that operates bus service in the region told CBC that company management accepted the deal prior to the union's ratification vote.

That set the stage for buses to return to the communities' roads, to the relief of people living there.

"Oh, I'm obviously thrilled," said Isla Robertson, a receptionist in Whistler, after hearing about the deal.

"It's been a challenging few months to be without public transit, to be taking taxis to work and just not having the freedom to move around."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The strike has kept buses off the road since Jan. 29, leading to frustration for residents — especially low-wage service workers that power the region's famous tourism sector.

Cost of living measure

Robertson said putting aside the frustration of losing transit service, she supported the drivers throughout the dispute.

Early in the dispute, she started an online petition calling on PW to sign a deal with drivers that met their demands.

"It sounds like it's a good offer ... they obviously voted to accept it," Robertson said Tuesday.

"I think they've done a great job of staying strong and and persisting. I'm really happy for them as well."

Unifor, in a statement Tuesday, said the deal for approximately 80 workers includes wage increases, pension plan improvements and benefit coverage for part-time workers.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The deal calls for a pay raise of 13.5 per cent over five years plus a signing bonus.

The union is also hailing a "ground-breaking" cost of living adjustment recommended to the parties by special mediator Vince Ready that will see workers paid a top up if growing costs of living exceeds the workers' pay raises.

"It is an irrefutable, inescapable fact the cost of living has been particularly problematic in the past several months, especially in the Whistler area, driven largely by housing costs, rental increases and gas prices," Ready noted in his recommendations, provided to both parties and Labour Minister Harry Bains.

"This escalating cost of living pressure has evolved to become a significant issue in this dispute and is contributing to the current impasse between the parties."

The need to keep up with ever-increasing costs of living in the region, and wage parity with Metro Vancouver drivers, were key refrains from the union.

"Unifor members have set the standard for workers across British Columbia. As inflation rises, wages must keep up," said Unifor director Gavin McGarrigle in a statement.

"We will take this principle to negotiations in every sector. Workers demand fair wages and a decent standard of living."

PW Transit, in a statement of their own, highlighted that Ready's recommendations found no reason to alter the signing bonus and wage increases negotiated by the parties in a tentative deal reached at the end of May that workers shot down in a ratification vote. The company insisted repeatedly it was making fair offers over the course of the job action.

Whistler Mayor 'ecstatic'

Local politicians have expressed their frustration as well, especially after the previous tentative agreement was shot down.

Some said they felt their hands were tied as they could not participate in discussions to resolve the impasse and were hearing frustrations from constituents.

"We're ecstatic," Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton said about news of a deal. "This was a devastating experience for this community.

"It's impacted businesses and it's just really made life more challenging for everybody in our community."

He expressed hope the buses would be rolling again by the weekend.

B.C. Transit said details on the resumption of service would come soon.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting