Premium payments, new buses rile Victoria transit commission member, bus union

B.C. Transit accused of provoking union, bus 'stunt' during bargaining

A Vicinity bus

A Vicinity bus

The union representing Greater Victoria bus drivers, mechanics and maintenance workers is accusing B.C. Transit of intentionally provoking workers to strike.

Canadian Auto Workers local 333 president Ben Williams said the union is being forced to pay worker benefit premiums, a move usually undertaken only after strike or lockout action.

But B.C. Transit said the move is a standard labour law practice.

“Under the labour code, in any job action … (the party) who pays the premium shifts from the employer to the union,” said Meribeth Burton, B.C. Transit spokesperson.

The two sides seem to have different interpretations of what constitutes adequate job action, however.

“The union is only taking the most limited form of job action possible – an overtime ban – in its measured and reasonable efforts to get a new contract without a serious disruption of transit service,” Williams said in a statement.

“But we are not going to accept B.C. Transit’s provocative position that the union or the workers pay their disability, life and health insurance premiums while they continue to work their full shifts.”

The other major sticking point in negotiations centres on B.C. Transit’s purchase of 15 Vicinity buses, which carry more passengers and require less training to operate than existing shuttle buses. Five of those buses are intended for Greater Victoria.

On Thursday, B.C. Transit staged a presentation of a Vicinity bus for media and employees.

Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto called the display “highly inappropriate” given that the Greater Victoria Transit Commission, of which she is a member, delayed a crucial decision on rubber-stamping the buses for Victoria routes.

The commission still needs to assess safety and accessibility features, as well as proposed training requirements for the Vicinity buses.

“The commission made a reasonable decision to delay this decision (during job action),” Alto said.

“B.C. Transit folks were in the room at the time … It’s unfortunate that the discussion we should be having has been undermined by this stunt from B.C. Transit. They’ve thrown the commission right in the middle of the collective bargaining process.”

The transit commission next meets Dec. 4 and may reconsider its delayed decision on the buses, Alto said.

Williams stressed the union will give 24 hours notice before walking off the job or cutting service.

For the latest transit delays, check bctransit.com.

dpalmer@vicnews.com