Kelowna buses officially back on the road Thursday

Buses ready to roll. Union voted 61 cent in favour of contract ratification.

Central Okanagan bus drivers will be back behind the wheel Thursday morning.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722 ratified a three-year contract agreement Wednesday, with 61 per cent of the 177 union members voting in favour of the offer that was tabled.

The biggest change to the contract was First Canada accepting a bus is bus proposal, effective as of January 2018, said Scott Lovell president of ATU local 1722. That allows drivers to be paid the same rate, regardless of the size of the bus they’re driving.

In Kelowna, unlike cities like Victoria, 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.

Other issues local bus drivers had —such as wages being significantly lower than their counterparts in other cities — have yet to be resolved, which is the reason for the fairly low amount of support for contract ratification.

“Sixty-one per cent approval is not a full endorsement of the deal,” said Lovell. “We had 92 per cent in favour of a strike. When you get something like a 61 per cent in favour,  that means that 40 per cent of the workforce are extremely unhappy. But we’re in a strike position. In order to say ‘no,’ well, the pressure is enormous.”

What is buoying spirits, however, is being able to help customers again.

“Our members didn’t want to go on strike in the first place because we knew the negative affect it would have on the community,” said Lovell. “I received hundreds of emails and we, as a group, heard how badly the public was suffering. We knew they were suffering, and that’s the worst part of it all. We didn’t want to do that.”

So, drivers will be back behind the wheel first thing in the morning.

“We ask transit customers in the Kelowna Regional Transit System for their patience over the next few days as the company works to mobilize staff, schedules and the fleet,” said a press release from First Canada, the company that runs the bus service.

The City of Kelowna played a significant role in bridging the divide between the union and the company.

“We are grateful to Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran and City of Kelowna staff who helped broker this agreement,” said John Peck, First Canada regional vice-president.

“We sincerely regret the inconvenience to our valued customers for the interruption of transit services and we look forward to working with our employees as we restore this vital community service.”