A transit strike in the eastern Fraser Valley is now imminent, according to the union who represents transit workers.
This will affect transit users in Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs and Hope, as well as the operations of the FVX line from Chilliwack into the Lower Mainland.
CUPE 561 issued a press release on Friday morning announcing a full walkout on Monday. This follows another three days of failed negotiations, after a long negotiation process.
HandyDART will continue to operate at essential service levels for passengers requiring treatment for cancer, multiple sclerosis, and renal dialysis. All other transit services in the Fraser Valley will cease indefinitely until a fair deal is reached, the union said.
Unlike the previous three-day strike, this one has no end date. Drivers have also not been collecting fares since early February.
CUPE 561 president Jane Gibbons described the full shutdown as a result of the company’s “intransigence at the table.”
“This employer has completely refused to meaningfully discuss the regional wage disparity and lack of a pension,” Gibbons said. “It’s gotten so bad that we’re left with no alternative but to shut down services.”
They also said that their employer First Transit, a U.S.-based, for-profit company subcontracted by BC Transit, was recently purchased by a global corporation, Transdev.
“We find it hard to believe that a company with this much wealth refuses to pay our members what other transit operators in this region make,” Gibbons said. “Without fair wages, public transit in the Fraser Valley will continue to suffer.”
She said First Transit has shown a “steadfast refusal to address the concerns of our members.”
First Transit responds to impending strike
A company spokesperson responded to the union’s public statement on Friday afternoon, confirming that the Fraser Valley Express and non-essential HandyDART will not be operating beginning March 20. They also state that their bargaining team “remains ready to sit down and engage with constructive collective bargaining with CUPE Local 561 representatives.”
“While our lines of communication with the union remain open, we are making preparations for escalating strike action,” the spokesperson said. “We are disappointed that CUPE Local 561 is choosing to withdraw transit service from the citizens of the Fraser Valley. As a part of the Fraser Valley community for 15 years, First Transit, together with BC Transit and members of CUPE Local 561, have worked together to provide professional and reliable transit services to this rapidly growing region.”
Their response also got into the details of their current offer, which they said includes a five-year settlement with total wage increases of up to 16 per cent over five years. While, they said, they don’t want to bargain through the media, they want the public to understand the issue.
This includes cost-of-living-adjustments in year five and “would provide important support to CUPE Local 561 members as the economy continues to adjust to persistent economic pressures.”
“Conventional drivers could be above $32.00 per hour in 2024/year 5,” they state. “This wage proposal, if taken, would mean that members of CUPE Local 561 will have seen wage increases in aggregate of approximately 20 per cent since 2017.”
They have also proposed adding 15 full-time operator positions with benefit packages to the bargaining unit – increasing the full-time workforce serving the Fraser Valley. They feel the changes would attract workers as well.
In thanking the public for their patience, the employer laid blame at the union in “apologizing for the impacts any loss of service caused by CUPE Local 561 will have.”
First Transit has had six successful contract renewals since the fall of 2021, they said.
“We recognize this round of negotiation has brought challenges, and acknowledge that many stakeholders want to understand the details of our bargaining position,” the spokesperson added.
They did not respond to the issue of the company being purchased.