Central Okanagan transit workers vote 92 per cent to strike

No strike action is planned yet and the union's president says he wants to see current contract negotiations sent to mediation.

Bus drivers in the Central Okanagan have voted 92 per cent in favour of strike action.

Bus drivers in the Central Okanagan have voted 92 per cent in favour of strike action.

Members of the union that represents 160 Central Okanagan bus drivers have voted 92 per cent in favour of strike action.

Scott Lovell, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1722, said the vote came in response to a final offer by the operator of the local transit First Canada. and the lack of a contract for the last six months.

He said while the company offered wage hikes of one per cent per year over three years for 57 non-driving members of the  217-member local, the 160 bus drivers were only offered half a per cent in the first year and one per cent in each of the two remaining years.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Lovell, adding under terms of the last contract, local transit workers had not received a raise in the last 18 months.

The last contract included no raise in the first two years and a two per cent increase at the start of the third year.

Lovell said no decision on strike action has been taken and while the drivers would prefer not to strike, the mandate given to the union by the vote allows it to call a strike within the next 90 days.

He said given that First Canada had said it’s last offer—made early in negotiations—was its final offer, he would now like to see whole contract issue go to mediation.

In addition to the wage issue, Lovell said another bone of contention for bus drivers here is the fact they are treated differently than drivers in Victoria, where B.C. Transit  operates the system.

“We all do the same job,” he said.

But in Victoria, B.C. Transit has adopted what Lovell called, “a bus is a bus” system, meaning drivers are not paid less if they drive smaller buses.

Here, he said, despite being licensed to drive the biggest buses in the fleet, if a driver is assigned to drive a smaller community bus, he or she is paid about $4 per hour less while driving the smaller bus.

“It’s incredibly unfair,” said Lovell.

The ATU Local 1722 president said overall, Kelowna-area drivers are currently paid about 15 per cent less than their counterparts in Victoria.

Other issues the union wants addressed include breaks for drivers during their shifts, which can last between eight and 12 hours a day, and shorter splits during split shifts where a four-hour gap can now be scheduled into a driver’s work day, making for very long overall shifts.