First Transit and CUPE 561 are sitting down today (March 2) to continue contract discussions for Fraser Valley transit workers.
The employer and the union have been negotiating for months, with job action escalating throughout this year. Drivers are no longer collecting fares, and all transit services except for HandyDART were shut down for the last two days of February.
And more strike action is planned, CUPE 561 said this week in a press release, saying that the workers employed by First Transit, through a contract with BC Transit, are “the most underpaid transit workers in the region.” The affected services are in Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Agassiz and Harrison, and Hope.
They said another shutdown of all services, except for HandyDART, will occur on March 9, 10, and 11. Further bargaining dates with the employer are scheduled for the following week.
While talks continue, the union says “a complete shutdown of the system is inevitable if the U.S.-based, for-profit company fails to address regional wage disparity, the lack of a pension plan, and working conditions that led to the job action.”
“Unless First Transit is prepared to deal with these issues, transit users should be prepared to go without service for a long period of time,” said CUPE 561 President Jane Gibbons. “We understand the imposition this will place on people who depend on public transit. It is not a decision we take lightly, but we have been left with no other option. That is why, since our job action began a month ago, we have given this employer ample opportunity to reach a fair settlement without having to cause constant disruption to the system.”
If no deal is reached by March 20, Gibbons said, a full walk-out will begin and the Fraser Valley transit system will be down to essential services. This means that HandyDART services will only be available for those requiring treatment for cancer, multiple sclerosis, and renal dialysis.
“We encourage Fraser Valley residents to visit www.weneedalift.ca to send a letter to their regional district representative and MLA,” added Gibbons.