SkyTrain employees are planning a full withdrawal of services for three days beginning Tuesday if no progress is made in talks with TransLink’s B.C. Rapid Transit Company.
“We understand that this is a massive action that will cause a great deal of inconvenience to our passengers, which is why we hope we can still reach an agreement before Tuesday morning,” CUPE 7000 president Tony Rebelo said in a statement Saturday.
“We have been either at the table or in mediation for almost 50 days now, so it’s time to get a deal done.”
The union, which represents 900 SkyTrain workers, issued 72-hour strike notice on Friday following four days of mediation and more than 40 days of bargaining with B.C. Rapid Transit Company. The union said no significant progress has been made on key issues.
But the employer said it was unacceptable the union was using the 150,000 people who use the Expo and Millennium lines each weekday as “leverage.”
“BCRTC remains committed to getting a deal done,” Michel Ladrak, president of British Columbia Rapid Transit Company, said in a statement. “We will continue bargaining until the last moment to avoid this unnecessary and disruptive job action.”
The strike notice came a day after unionized bus and SeaBus workers voted 84.3 per cent in favour of a three-year agreement with TransLink’s Coast Mountain Bus Company.
TransLink will not be able throw out extra buses to replace SkyTrain service on the Expo and Millennium lines, which average 380,000 boardings each weekday.
“The regular bus routes will be beefed up, but we won’t be able to run buses from (SkyTrain) station to station like we would with a service disruption. That would be a violation of labour laws,” TransLink spokeswoman Jill Drews told Postmedia in an earlier interview.
Even though SkyTrains are automated, Drews said management would not be able to keep the service going in a full-scale strike.
“While trains do not require drivers, staff are required in the control room to run the system. Field staff are also necessary in the event there is a malfunction like a timed-out train,” she said.
For SkyTrain workers, staffing levels in the operations department and wages are big concerns. The union is also demanding changes in the areas of forced overtime and sick leave.
Wages for SkyTrain workers vary depending on a person’s duties. On the low end, a receptionist or data-entry clerk makes $24.95 an hour and a customer service attendant makes $26.43 an hour, while an escalator/elevator technician, the highest-paid tradesperson, makes $49.94 an hour.
The last contract expired Aug. 31. The last SkyTrain strike was a single day shutdown more than twenty years ago, according to the union.
The system shutdown will begin on Tuesday at 5 a.m. Normal service will resume on Friday at 5 a.m.
The Canada Line, West Coast Express, bus, SeaBus and HandyDART services will operate as normal.
With files by Scott Brown and the Canadian Press