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Sea to Sky transit strike to continue as talks fail

After one day of negotiating with a mediator, both union and employer have again declared an impasse.
squamish Transit strike
Squamish transit strikers.

About three months after a transit strike was declared, it seems that Squamish and other Sea to Sky residents will have to make do without transit a while longer.

After only one day of negotiations, the parties have once again declared an impasse, with both sides expressing disappointment in the other’s actions.

On May 11, Whistler Transit Ltd./Diversified Transportation, subsidiaries of PWTransit, announced that it could not reach an agreement with its workers.

The revival of negotiations was heralded days ago, when it was declared that mediator Dave Schaub would be helping both sides figure out a solution.

However, even with the help of a mediator, talks have collapsed.

The employer said in a news release that it presented two options to Unifor, the union representing the striking transit workers.

According to PWTransit, the first option contained an agreement on wage increases for the first two years, while meeting union demands on pension and benefits. This option also stipulated that both sides would enter into binding arbitration regarding wage increases in the following three years.

The second option contained higher guaranteed wage increases over the span of the five-year deal and a conversion from the employer’s pension plan to the union’s plan, PWTransit said. This option, the company said, contained benefits that are consistent with what is outlined in the current collective bargaining agreement.

“These two options were presented to the Union,” reads the release issued by Amaira Hansen, PWTransit’s director of communications.

“We were disappointed when the union informed the company that they weren’t prepared to recommend either option to their members and walked away from the table.”

On the other hand, Unifor published its own new release, which framed the failure as the result of PWTransit being “unwilling to collaborate with workers on [a] roadmap to wage parity.”

“We discussed various options and multiple timelines, but, as they have from the beginning, PWTransit again rejected any proposal for a roadmap that gets Sea to Sky transit workers’ wages up to today’s Coast Mountain Bus Company levels,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor’s western regional director, in the release.

The release stated that for the first time, Unifor offered to delay wage parity with Coast Mountain Bus Company wages until 2024, but the employer refused.

Unifor said that one of the options it proposed would have slightly modified one of the company’s recent offers of a signing bonus, but converted to wages spread out over the term of the agreement, leaving the parties only $0.25 per hour apart on transit drivers’ wages in 2024.

PWTransit refused to convert the signing bonus into wages and to close the remaining small gap, the union said.

The union also said it offered another day of mediation in the near future, but said this offer was rejected as well.

“It was deeply frustrating that after nearly 15 weeks without transit service in the region, the employer won’t entertain any timeline or solution for wage parity over the life of this agreement,” said McGarrigle in the news release.

Unifor Local 114 began legal strike action on January 29, 2022.

In question period at the province’s legislative assembly, MLA Jordan Sturdy brought up the topic of the transit strike on May 12.

“Six weeks ago, I asked the Minister of Labour to step in so people can get to where they need to go,” said Sturdy.

“But nothing’s happened. He hasn’t done a thing…When will this minister do his job and put these parties into binding arbitration?”

In response, Labour Minister Harry Bains acknowledged the impact the strike has been having on Sea to Sky residents.

He said his office has reached out to both parties. 

“I urged them again that the services of the labour board are available to them,” said Bains. “They’re only a phone call away. And a mediator’s available, and we urge both parties to go back to the bargaining table. Because that’s where the solution is.”