Bus drivers’ job action starts Tuesday if talks don’t resume

Bus drivers in Greater Victoria continue to work, but refuse to wear their uniforms.

Bus drivers in Greater Victoria have scrapped their uniforms in favour of street clothes.

The uniform ban was sanctioned by the Canadian Auto Workers local 333.

“We’re trying to do everything we can without disrupting service,” said union local president Ben Williams. “We’re not getting their attention.”

The drivers’ job action will escalate by Tuesday if B.C. Transit has not returned to the negotiating table, Williams said. “It will affect the commuting public.”

More than 650 bus drivers, skilled trades and maintenance workers in Greater Victoria issued strike notice last Friday (Oct. 5).

The two sides remain at an impasse over wage increases and benefits, which are not in line with the B.C. government’s net zero mandate, said Transit spokesperson Meribeth Burton.

“We asked the bargaining committee to go and speak to other unions. There seems to be a lack of understanding about what the co-operative gains mandate is,” she said.

The negotiating mandate requires unions to offset any wage increases with cost savings and productivity gains in other areas.

Both the B.C. Nurses Union and B.C. Government Employees Union have come to tentative contract agreements under the mandate.

“Our (offer) is exactly in line with the nurses (and) the BCGEU and we’re still surprised we’re sitting at this impasse,” Burton said.

Williams, however, said the union is aware of the government’s restraints.

“We are within the guidelines that are laid out with the government,” he said.

No specific bargaining details are being provided by either side, but both Williams and B.C. Transit have expressed a desire to return to negotiations.

Burton called the uniform ban a safety violation, from B.C. Transit’s perspective.

“It’s confusing for our riders but we’re grateful that at least the system is running,” she said.

Greater Victoria transit operators last took strike action in April 2001. The strike lasted 14 days.

Previous strikes affecting passengers took place in 1999 (one week) and 1984, when a three-month walkout crippled the economy of downtown Victoria.

HandyDART drivers are under a separate collective agreement and are not part of the job action.

– with files from Roszan Holmen

dpalmer@vicnews.com