Fraser Valley transit workers gather during a rally outside Abbotsford Town Hall in late February.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - photo credit)

Fraser Valley transit workers gather during a rally outside Abbotsford Town Hall in late February. (Ben Nelms/CBC – photo credit)

More than 200 drivers and other workers who keep the Fraser Valley buses moving will go on strike Monday, according to their union, only bringing transit to the level of service necessary.

The Fraser Valley bus system serves Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, Agassiz, Harrison and Hope. It also operates an express bus service as far west as Burnaby.

A spokesman for CUPE 561 told CBC News that three days of talks this week had resulted in no progress on a new collective agreement.

At the start of Monday’s service day, the spokesman said only the HandyDart service would remain on the road – providing essential services such as dialysis patient transport and cancer treatments.

The CUPE spokesman said the only thing preventing the hiring would be last-minute talks over the weekend, which are not expected at the time. The union said further details would be announced on Friday morning.

Liam Britten/CBC

Liam Britten/CBC

According to BC Transit, the dispute is between the contractor and the union

BC Transit estimates the service sees about 13,000 boardings on weekdays in its largest communities – Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Mission.

It has been said repeatedly that the dispute is between First Transit, which operates the Fraser Valley bus service on behalf of the agency, and the union. It has previously said it is monitoring the situation and apologizes for any disruption.

At the start of negotiations, First Transit said it had offered workers “significant wage increases in line with trends across the province, as well as structural improvements to improve service reliability.”

“First Transit believes its offering balances the needs of everyone involved in the Fraser Valley transit system with our desire to ensure we continue to attract and retain a skilled and talented workforce,” the company said in a statement.

A spokesman for First Transit said the company would comment further Friday morning.

Escalating actions

According to CUPE, the main problems are a pay gap between Fraser Valley bus drivers and other drivers, working conditions and the need for a pension.

Liam Britten/CBC

Liam Britten/CBC

Fraser Valley drivers earn 32 percent less than drivers in neighboring systems, the union says. CBC has not been told what shipping systems the union is considering in order to reach that number.

CUPE adds that many drivers are forced to put in long stand-by hours for which they are paid less than $3 an hour. The lack of a retirement plan worries some drivers about their retirement.

CUPE issued a strike notice on January 30, and drivers stopped collecting fares a few days earlier.

The buses were grounded in late February and last week when drivers stopped work for two and three days respectively.

Over the past 12 months, transit drivers in a number of areas — Sea-to-Sky, West Vancouver, Kelowna — have taken strikes and industrial action to secure better collective agreements.

Union leaders have consistently said that the need to cope with rising living costs has a major impact on workers’ demands.


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