Bus drivers across the Central Okanagan walked off the job and started walking picket lines early Thursday morning.
“The Union has made every effort to make this contract a fair settlement for all parties. As of the time of this release the company has not responded so as of Nov. 10 all Transit Services will be suspended,” said Scott Lovell, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722.
The 217 transit workers in the Central Okanagan have been without a contract since April 1 and the Lovell said they were close to reaching a deal Wednesday night, then an offer from First Canada that didn’t meet even their most basic needs came in and that triggered job action.
“We are not being treated fairly, or like drivers in anywhere else in B.C.” said Lovell. “It’s embarrassing and sad.”
One of the main sticking points in contract negotiations has to do with what he calls a “bus is a bus” system.
In other cities, like Victoria, the size of the bus doesn’t affect wages. Locally, 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, despite licensing requirements being the same.
“It’s incredibly unfair,” said Lovell, adding that First Canada didn’t even touch that issue with their latest contract offer.
Nor did they offer much in the way of wage increases.
“We are being paid about 15 per cent less than what they make in the Lower Mainland and when you add in the pension we don’t get that puts us at another 10 to 12 per cent less than them — and we have a similar cost of living,” he said.
Lovell added that local drivers aren’t asking for parity with their counterparts in other areas of the province, rather just a raise of 2.5 per cent, which was also denied.
In September, 92 per cent of the Local 1722 of the Amalgamated Transit Union’s membership voted in favour of strike action.