Fraser Valley bus union threatens 'indefinite' strike to begin Monday

WATCH: Thousands of people in the Fraser Valley are bracing for next week, when the region's bus drivers launch a full-scale strike to back their contract demands. Travis Prasad reports.

Bus riders in the Fraser Valley area should be planning alternative transit arrangements for their Monday commutes as First Transit staff are escalating their job action.

First Transit workers, especially bus drivers, have an “indefinite strike” planned as CUPE 561 and their employer has not been able to reach a deal.

“HandyDART will operate at essential service levels for passengers requiring treatment for cancer, multiple sclerosis, and renal dialysis.

“If the job action goes ahead Monday, it will halt public buses in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, Hope and Agassiz-Harrison until a “fair deal is reached,” the union said in a statement.

It will be the third strike for the union after it said three days of negotiating failed to bring a new collective agreement.

“CUPE 561 members, who work for First Transit, will commence a full walkout on Monday,” union staff said

Union president, Jane Gibbons, described the full shutdown as a result of the employer’s unwillingness to budge at the table.

“This employer has completely refused to meaningfully discuss the regional wage disparity and lack of a pension,” Gibbons said.

“It’s gotten so bad that we’re left with no alternative but to shut down services.”

CUPE 561 is arguing its members are paid up to 32 per cent less than workers in Metro Vancouver.

First Transit said it feels strongly that its offer given to the union is a “solid foundation for continued collective bargaining.”

“We are disappointed that CUPE Local 561 is choosing to withdraw transit service from the citizens of the Fraser Valley,” a company spokesperson said in an email.

“We feel strongly that our offer provides a solid foundation for continued collective bargaining, which has consistently been our goal.

“First Transit has reached six renewals in B.C. since the fall of 2021, which has allowed us to hire and retain skilled operators who have done great work serving their communities.”

First Transit said it has proposed a five-year settlement, with total wage increases of up to 16 per cent over five years.

“This wage proposal, if taken, would mean that members of CUPE Local 561 will have seen wage increases in aggregate of approximately 20 per cent since 2017,” the spokespersons said.

“We have also proposed adding 15 full-time operator positions with benefits packages to the bargaining unit – increasing the full-time workforce serving the Fraser Valley.”

BC Transit, the crown corporation responsible for transit in the province, contracts operating companies to deliver services in Metro Vancouver.

“We sincerely apologize for the difficult impact job action has on everyone. We’re closely monitoring and will update you as soon as we can,” it said on Twitter.

The union also directs some blame at BC Transit as well.

“Given First Transit’s steadfast refusal to address the concerns of our members, it’s clear that BC Transit’s confidence in Transdev is grossly misplaced,” union staff said.

“In our mind, BC Transit is abandoning the communities it is entrusted to serve. It is leaving our community and transit users at the mercy of a profit-driven foreign conglomerate with no connection to the Fraser Valley.”

Transdev is a global corporation that recently purchased First Transit, the union said.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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