Transit operators in the Fraser Valley have served a 72-hour strike notice to First Transit, which operates BC Transit services in Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Mission, Agassiz and Hope.
Their union, CUPE 561, said Monday that if talks aren’t successful in the coming days, drivers won’t be collecting fares on Thursday. They are also prepared to withdraw most services for two days at the end of February.
The notice comes after more than 20 days of bargaining since talks began last spring. CUPE said that among the major outstanding issues is wage and compensation fairness as Fraser Valley transit workers make 32 per cent less than transit workers across the Lower Mainland.
Their membership includes drivers, utility workers, bus washers, and mechanics. First Transit is a private, American-based company with a contract through BC Transit.
“People see BC Transit on the side of our buses and think our members are getting the same wages as other BC Transit workers — we are not,” said CUPE 561 president Jane Gibbons. “Our members make significantly less than transit workers across the Lower Mainland, with no pension plan and long hours of standby time for which they receive less than $3 per hour.”
First Transit operates both conventional and HandyDART transit in the Fraser Valley and were the subject of a recent transit labour dispute in Kelowna in September of last year, said a press release from CUPE Monday.
“Our members are seeking a fair deal, one that pays them what other transit operators are currently being paid. It doesn’t make any sense that those in the Fraser Valley should be asked to do the same job for less than everyone else,” said Gibbons.
The union will be in a legal strike position as of 3 p.m. on Feb. 2, at which point they said that drivers will stop collecting fares. If a deal cannot be reached, the union said it will escalate to a planned full-service withdrawal, excluding HandyDART services, on Feb. 27 and 28.
“We are committed to continuing negotiations and trying our level best to avoid disruptions to the public we serve. We have delayed full withdrawal of service to give residents ample notice, and in the hopes that First Transit will return to the table with a renewed approach,” Gibbons said.