West Vancouver bus drivers say strike notice could come next week

·3 min read
A Blue Bus vehicle seen in 2016. Drivers of these vehicles and other workers are threatening to strike. (Flickr/Stephen Rees - image credit)
A Blue Bus vehicle seen in 2016. Drivers of these vehicles and other workers are threatening to strike. (Flickr/Stephen Rees - image credit)

Frustrated West Vancouver bus drivers say they're ready to escalate job action in their fight for better pay and working conditions.

The president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 134 says the union is prepared to give strike notice next week as his members working for Blue Bus seek pay and working conditions equal to their counterparts at Coast Mountain Bus Company.

"We need fairness and parity," Cornel Naegu said. "Everything we are asking … It's 100 per cent copy-paste from the Coast Mountain Bus collective agreement."

Local 134 represents 150 drivers, mechanics and cleaners who work for West Vancouver Transit, also known as Blue Bus.

Both Blue Bus and Coast Mountain are TransLink contractors, running conventional and shuttle bus services.

While Coast Mountain services most of the Metro Vancouver area, Blue Bus, which is owned by the District of West Vancouver, runs buses within that municipality and into neighbouring communities.

But Naegu says despite doing the same work, Blue Bus drivers only make about $27 hourly compared to $30 for Coast Mountain drivers.

They also may have to work split shifts on Sundays and, he says, they can't even get a guaranteed five-minute break after each route to use the washroom.

"That's not acceptable anymore, in 2022. We need that five-minute mandatory recovery time for our drivers," Naegu said.

"It's human."

He says the union is making its intentions clear early so the 18,000 daily Blue Bus riders can plan ahead for disruptions.

District wants mediation

Naegu says the workers' contract expired in April. Since then, they have been refusing to work overtime and to wear their uniforms.

The district, for its part, says it has made fair offers to Local 134 workers.

It says it has made proposals to close the wage gap. It also says current schedules allow for breaks after routes and it's willing to discuss the break matter further.

The district says it wants to continue mediated talks. Naegu says the union is past that now.

He says it wants binding arbitration — specifically involving famed arbitrator Vince Ready, who was recently involved in the end to the record-breaking Whistler transit strike.

Expect notice next Wednesday, union says

Naegu says strike notice will come Sept. 7.

"The transit is going to be totally disrupted up to no buses on the road at all," he said, adding there are plans to picket Park Royal Exchange and hand out leaflets and rally to highlight their demands.

He said more details will come with the strike notice.

A Coast Mountain spokesperson says it is seeking an order from the Labour Relations Board to ensure its employees, represented by Unifor, would not need to cross picket lines and can still work.

"Coast Mountain Bus Company is closely monitoring the ongoing dispute between the District of West Vancouver and the union representing Blue Bus employees," the spokesperson wrote.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

This year, with skyrocketing inflation affecting many facets of life in Canada, a number of unionized work forces have gone on strike to get more for members.

B.C. Transit service was taken off the road for months in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton as workers there sought pay equity with Metro Vancouver drivers. That dispute led to a novel cost-of-living provision.

On Monday, transit workers in Kelowna voted overwhelmingly to strike, if necessary, for a new collective agreement.