Kelowna politicians are getting an earful from area residents calling in their concerns about a looming transit strike, so Mayor Sharon Shepherd passed their messages onto the B.C. Transit representative who was in council chambers for Monday’s meeting.
“We’re very worried about the potential transit strike,” said Shepherd.
“It’s such a needed service in our community, whatever could be done, should be done, but we have no say.”
Shepherd learned the city isn’t the only one who doesn’t have a say.
Steve Harvard, B.C. Transit’s regional manager for the southern Interior, said the provincial organization also has its hands tied.
“B.C. Transit is not part of that agreement—it’s between First Canada and the employee union,” Harvard said.
Shepherd pointed out that it’s B.C. Transit that awarded the contract to First Canada, so they should theoretically have some say in the way the company deals with its employees.
Harvard said that wasn’t the case, but if there was a strike, they would have to take over essential services, like Handidart.
The rest of the bus riding community, however, would have to fend for itself.
Whether transit workers will be parking local buses as a means of wrangling for what they call a fair contract will become clear at the end of April when the employee union and First Canada (First Bus) go through mediation.
“That will happen April 27 or 28,” said Les Milton, president of the Amalgamated Transit union, after 95 per cent of the union membership rejected the last contract offered to them.
“Then, after that, we’ll go to our membership and discuss next steps…but this group of employees has done everything we can do to stave off a strike.”
The mediation is a last-ditch effort to make contract talks work.
The crux of the matter, he explained, is that the company that operates the B.C. Transit contract is treating drivers as though they’re government employees, while extending none of the benefits—such as higher wages and job security—to them.