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B.C. considers ‘special mediator’ for transit strike as thousands impacted by stoppage

The B.C. government may bring a “special mediator” into the ongoing labour dispute between the Coast Mountain Bus Company and TransLink transit supervisors represented by CUPE 4500.

Labour Minister Harry Bains presented the option Monday after picket lines went up at major transit centres in Metro Vancouver, where bus and SeaBus service was suspended.

“I know the two sides understand their responsibility to the public, to their customers, and I urge them to get back to the table to work out an end to this dispute,” Bains said in a press conference.

“There are so many people who rely on this service.”

The strike, slated to last until 3 a.m. Wednesday, left thousands of transit users in the cold on Monday.

Bains said it is the responsibility of CUPE 4500 and the Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) to reach a deal. Both the parties were at the bargaining table over the weekend with veteran mediator Vince Ready, but failed to agree on what constitutes an acceptable wage hike.

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“It is disappointing to all of us that the parties did not reach an agreement,” Bains said.

“We have reached out to both employer and the union today to urge them both to get back to the bargaining table without delay and also to get involved in good faith bargaining, to hammer out an agreement to deal with their differences.”

The union’s spokesperson has said Monday’s job action could have been avoided, but CMBC’s “inflexibility” is to blame.

CUPE 4500 wants double-digit raises that, according to CMBC, are close to double what other bargaining employees have agreed to. On Monday, the employer said it offered increased overtime pay over the weekend, improved benefits and a promise to hire more supervisors, but that offer was rejected.

“This is unacceptable and unreasonable,” CMBC president Michael McDaniel said in a news release.

Bains said appointing a special mediator — when both bargaining parties agree to it — has been a successful intervention in the past. He hopes such intervention will not be needed, he added.

Bains would not provide a timeline for when the province may use a firmer hand. If a special mediator were appointed, however, Bains said they would be able to make public recommendations for resolving it.

Official Opposition Leader Kevin Falcon has suggested that if BC United led the government, certain transit workers would be designated as essential, so minimum level transit service is guaranteed to be available at all times.

“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” said Bains. “But I think that option is available now under the (Labour) code … it happens all the time in labour disputes and this one is no different.

“If parties wish to go to the labour board and make their case about what services should be made essential for the purposes of this dispute, the labour board makes that ruling.”

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