News

B.C. Transit and union reach labour agreement, strike averted

The Vicinity bus, a community shuttle bus that can carry more passengers than other models. The proposed introduction of the bus in Greater Victoria was a key issue in labour negotiations between B.C. Transit and the union. - Don Denton/News staff
The Vicinity bus, a community shuttle bus that can carry more passengers than other models. The proposed introduction of the bus in Greater Victoria was a key issue in labour negotiations between B.C. Transit and the union.
— image credit: Don Denton/News staff

B.C. Transit has reached a tentative agreement with the union representing its workers, but regular bus service may still be disrupted for weeks due to a backlog of mechanical work.

The two-year tentative deal struck on Wednesday immediately ends job action, including the one-day strike that had been planned for next week.

Union members and the transit board will ratify the agreement in the coming days, said Canadian Auto Workers 333 local president Ben Williams.

"It's a huge relief," he said of the drawn-out negotiations that began last May.

Employees will see a two per cent pay increase retroactive to April 2012, and another 2 per cent increase in 2013.

But the biggest win for the union is a promise from B.C. Transit that its Vicinity shuttle buses won't be used in the Capital Region for at least the next year and a half.

"Nobody will give you that assurance that something will never happen, it's only for the term of the contract," Williams said.

The newly purchased Vicinity buses were contentious because they require less training and can be driven by lower-paid drivers. The union wanted final say on both factors. Trials for the buses will still take place outside the Capital Region.

A return to full transit service will take time, said Williams, because of a backlog of mechanical work on approximately 50 buses, a result of the union's overtime ban that was implemented last October.

"We expect it's going to take not a few days, but more along the lines of a few weeks before you see the system return to normal," Williams said.

The union hopes to be part of any decision to bring in the Vicinity buses in the future, and Williams is already looking ahead to the next labour negotiations.

"I'd imagine we'd be back at the table next January," he said. While typical contracts last three years, the net-zero mandate brought forward by the province required only a two-year agreement.

dpalmer@vicnews.com

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