Early this month, negotiations broke down between bus, seabus, and maintenance workers in Unifor locals 111 and 2200 and TransLink’s Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) which operates across Metro Vancouver.
Talks had been going on for months as 5000 workers have been working without contract since March 31st. As is to be expected, the CMBC had routinely failed to bring forward an offer that could meet the needs of their workers.
As was seen in the recent CUPW strike, where the federal government effectively ended the strike with a piece of back-to-work legislation, the rights of workers to collectively bargain and perform job actions such as strikes under capitalism are only tentatively guaranteed. The old state will only tolerate job actions by the working-class up until they become too great an inconvenience to the capitalist class. Under provincial law, the government of British Columbia maintains the right to essentially overrule any attempt at a strike by forcing the continuation of essential services. The last time that CMBC workers held a major strike was in 2001 when they walked out for over four months before they were forced back to work by the provincial government.
One of the few advantages the transit workers have is that British Columbia bans employers from hiring scabs, that is temporary replacements for those on strike. However, so long as the government maintains the right to force workers back to work, this protection does not amount to much.
The Vancouver transit system has become overburdened in recent years. Ridership alone increased 18 per cent between 2016 and 2018. This drastic increase in riders has led to the transit workers being increasingly understaffed. This is tied to the recent increase of 36 per cent in overcrowded bus trips in this same period. Altogether, what this means is that CMBC workers are expected to perform at the same level with fewer and fewer resources.
According to Unifor’s western regional director, McGarrigle, CMBC workers have largely managed to make trips on time despite these challenges, but this has come at the expense of proper breaks leading to overworked workers.
On the night of Thursday October 10th, 99% of CMBC workers voted for a strike mandate citing the need of the CMBC to properly respond to the recent spike in ridership. Among other issues workers are demanding that more drivers be hired, that competitive wages be set, that overcrowding be reduced, and that breaks be extended by at least 7 minutes.
Negotiations will begin a new round on October 15th with the new understanding that workers are prepared and willing to walk off their jobs in defence of their rights.
This strike mandate will be effective for 90 days and the union has assured that they will provide a 72-hour notice before strike action.
Union representatives have discussed the possibility of alternative actions such as not collecting fares or a uniform protest.