About 60 bus drivers and transit mechanics in the Comox Valley and Campbell River have voted 91 per cent in favour of striking, but the union hopes to avoid job action as it continues to negotiate with B.C. Transit.
At issue is funding of the benefit plan provided by Watson & Ash Transportation, the contractor that provides public bus and HandyDART service on behalf of BC Transit.
“The employer has offered a two-per-cent wage increase in line with the rest of government, but they want to claw back out of that two per cent the cost of the benefit premium increase,” said Stu Shields of the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW). “And we’re just saying ‘Sorry, no.’ BC Transit settled with two and two with their workers, and of course the benefits went up there just like anywhere else.”
In other words, the union can either cut the benefits or pay the increases itself.
At $22.51 per hour, Shields said workers in Comox, Courtenay and Campbell River receive the lowest hourly pay among transit employees in B.C. Bus drivers’ hourly earnings in Victoria range from $23 to nearly $27.
Shields notes the employer is speaking with the benefits provider to lower costs, and will speak with other providers.
“We have a good relationship with this employer, but we do have this fundamental dispute,” he said. “We’re not trying to surpass. We would like to get them closer to the bottom, rather than being so far behind everyone else.”
The two sides will meet again at the end of the month to discuss benefit options.
“There’s no immediacy to the strike vote, etc.,” said Darren Richards, general manager of Watson and Ash. “We’re hoping to come to an agreement sooner rather than later.”