5,000 Metro Vancouver bus drivers and skilled trades and technical workers that maintain buses and SeaBuses voted 99% in favor of strike action on October 10, 2019. Many transit users across the lower mainland may be wondering why transit workers feel so strongly about this strike.
Unifor Locals 111 and 2200 have been in negotiation with Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) for months, however the employer is offering no acceptable solutions for workers’ concerns in relation to pay equity, proper break and bathroom time, and safety on the job.
Transit workers’ demands are clearly outlined on the Unifor website, "While wage negotiations are fluid and subject to change, transit operators are demanding enough time during their workday to use the bathroom and have a snack. Coast Mountain maintenance staff are calling for parity with their peers at SkyTrain, while drivers are asking for comparisons to cities like Toronto."
Basically, bus routes are scheduled without proper break time due to a lack of bathrooms on bus routes as well as increasing traffic and construction in the Metro Vancouver area. Furthermore, SkyTrain employees make significantly more than Coast Mountain mechanics doing exactly the same job. Also, the CMBC relies heavily on workers’ working overtime which was made clear in the first days of the strike when the workers’ ban on overtime halted many SeaBus sailings.
The DailyHive, a Vancouver-based news and current events site, explains the employer’s point of view, "Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) believes the proposed deal sought by Unifor for its members working as bus drivers and maintenance workers is “not financially sustainable and fiscally responsible.” Both sides are $608 million apart in what they are willing to accept, with CMBC offering wage increases of approximately 10% and 12% for bus drivers and maintenance workers, respectively, over four years.”
However, the CMBC’s promise of 10-12% over four years barely covers the B.C. rate of inflation of 2.4% annually. Statistics Canada shows that the inflation of the consumer price index for British Columbia is the highest in the country. Meanwhile, bus drivers in Metro Vancouver are paid about $3 less an hour than their counterparts in Toronto (globalnews.ca).
Meanwhile, the President of CMBC, Mike McDaniel, has been working hard to turn transit users against their bus drivers promoting the false equivalency that CMBC can either afford to pay a wage increase to transit workers OR improve and expand transit options. He is consistently making the case to the public that doing both is impossible.
TransLink Company and Executive Hypocrisy
Yet when it comes to his own salary and worth Mike McDaniel and other TransLink executives are singing a different tune. While he argues that workers should be happy with around 2.5% increase in pay per year over the next four years, he received a minimum pay increase of 18% just last January.
A Global News article titled, "Bus company head says pay cut would not help end Metro Vancouver transit strike" by journalist Sean Boynton asked McDaniel if he would consider paying less to himself and other top transit executives. The article reports, "When asked if he would consider seeking a reduction in his salary and those of other TransLink executives to help close that gap, McDaniel said it’s the union that needs to back down instead."
According to Boynton, combining all six senior TransLink executives’ salaries together, they are making a minimum of $1.7 million annually - additional performance bonuses, regular annual increases, and taxable benefits are added to that. Indeed, McDaniel’s salary has skyrocketed! He was paid a $121, 000 basic salary in 2018, and is his 2019 salary will range from $279,818 to $372,513!!!
McDaniel’s pitiful defence to Global News’ questions? He said, “I don’t set my own salary. [...] That is set through the TransLink board, the Mayors’ Council. I don’t set that. [...] What I think is important is that we want today to talk about what the union needs to do and come back with a reasonable offer."
Unifor’s western regional director, Gavin McGarrigle, calls out McDaniels’ hypocrisy counterposing, “It’s one set of rules for executives, another set of rules for the passengers and another set of rules for the workers. If you can’t take care of your passengers, and you can’t take care of your workers, you’re not running a very good transit system.”
These capitalist executive managers have no shame when their hypocrisy is exposed.
Strike Actions Begin
The contract between TransLink and the workers expired in March 2019, it has been months of negotiations in which the employer has shown little willingness to listen to the workers’ concerns. After the nearly unanimous strike vote in early October, there were six negotiation sessions which took place, however with little of the workers’ demands being met, talks were broken off by the union on October 31.
On November 1 workers began a first phase of job action in which bus drivers stopped wearing their uniforms and mechanics stopped working overtime.
Why Should We Support Striking Bus Drivers & Transit Workers?
Poor and working people in Metro Vancouver and across Canada know that each year the pressure to provide for themselves and their loved ones is increasing. Wages are not rising to cover the basic costs of living and rate of inflation. Meanwhile, we consistently hear about CEOs, executives, and other bosses who are amassing wealth off our work.
Transit workers should earn a living wage which allows them to live a dignified life. Transit workers should be paid equally for equal work. Transit workers deserve proper breaks and a safe work environment. As the employer, it is up to Coast Mountain Bus Company to stop stalling and promise these minimum demands to all Transit workers on strike.
It is not up to transit workers to erode their standard of living so that TransLink can plan for service upgrades and expansions, that kind of transit system is inhuman and unsustainable – we demand CMBC accept Unifor’s offer immediately without further maneuvering. We demand abetter life for transit workers and all workers!
Follow Tamara on Twitter: @THans01
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