Bus drivers across the Central Okanagan are readying themselves to strike.
The Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1722, served 72 hour strike notice Thursday, after contract talks ground to a halt.
“We regret we may have to withdraw our services, but we must take action due to the inability of First Canada to negotiate a fair collective agreement with us,” said Scott Lovell, president of ATU local 1722.
The 217 transit workers in the Central Okanagan have been without a contract since April 1 and the Lovell said that the latest offer from First Canada, which is run out of Scotland, is an insult to all drivers,.
“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.
Much of the trouble, said Lovell, likely stems from the fact that the company runs out of Scotland and doesn’t have any stake in the community. He’s hoping that one day that will change and some municipal government will eventually take the reins, as is the case in other communities.
“It kills me that our tax dollars are going to Scotland,” he said.
In the meantime, he wants regular transit users to know that they won’t withdraw essential services, like the HandiDART, and that all potential disruptions in service will be well advertised in advance.