Breaking: Central Okanagan bus drivers back to work by Thursday

The City of Kelowna has brokered a meeting between the local transit union and First Canada, the company that runs the local bus service.

BC Transit on strike vs Canada First. Hwy. 97 at Orchard Park.

Bus drivers officially to head back to work — Nov. 23, 3:50 p.m.

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  108 members voting yes and 69 voting no.

No word as of yet on what the changes in the contract were, just simply that buses will be ready to roll first thing tomorrow 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,” read 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.

Tentative deal reached

Central Okanagan bus drivers are expected to be back to work by Thursday.

First Canada reached a tentative contract agreement with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1722 Tuesday afternoon.

The ATU will present the terms of the deal to its membership on Nov. 23. First Canada plans to resume all transit services as quickly as possible, likely by Nov. 24.

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 help 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.”

First Canada asks transit users in the Kelowna Regional Transit System for their patience over the next few days as the company works diligently to mobilize staff, schedules and the fleet.

City of Kelowna arranges a meeting between transit union and First Canada

The City of Kelowna has brokered a meeting between the local transit union and First Canada, the company that runs the  bus service.

“There are no formal talks underway, but the City of Kelowna staff are working at this time to bridge the gap between First Canada and our employees,” said  Meribeth Burton, spokesperson for First Canada, at around 1 p.m. Tuesday.

The meeting was ongoing when Burton spoke with the Capital News, and she couldn’t say specifically what would happen next. Just that its aim is simply to bring the two parties together.

Until now, the Central Okanagan’s transit strike looked far from being resolved with neither side announcing a return to the bargaining table.

“We are putting pressure on First Canada and its employees to get back to negotiations and reach a resolution as soon as possible,” wrote Mayor Colin Basran in a statement late last week explaining the city’s role in local transit.

“I have requested an appointment to speak with Transportation Minister Todd Stone about our concerns, and the city has been in daily contact with B.C. Transit officials, urging them to pressure both First Canada and its employees to help end this stalemate.”

Basran added that council has suggested transit service be made an essential service in the hopes some high-volume routes can be restored while negotiations are ongoing.

“There are no winners in a situation like this. This is certainly not something we want to see happen or continue for a long period of time,” said Basran.

Local transit workers have been without a contract since April 1 and the union  said they were close to reaching a deal a week before the strike, then an offer from First Canada that didn’t meet even their most basic needs came in and that triggered job action.

President of ATU local 1722 Scott Lovell said 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.

There’s also a disparity in wages between local bus drivers and their counterparts in other cities. This, said Lovell, was a secondary issue, although galling to many drivers.

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