Bus workers in Campbell River/Comox Valley vote to strike
Transit bus drivers are in a strike position, but their union representative is hopeful a deal can be reached.
Sixty public transit workers in Campbell River and the Comox Valley are the lowest paid in B.C., according to Stu Shields of the CAW union which represents the employees.
However, the real issue is the cost of benefits provided by Watson & Ash Transportation, the local contractors who provide public bus and Handydart service on behalf of BC Transit.
“The workers…are the lowest paid in the province and have close to the weakest retirement plan,” said Shields.
“What these workers do have is a decent enough benefit package, but the company now wants the workers to start paying a portion of the benefit costs, or reduce their benefits.”
Over the weekend, workers voted 91 per cent in favour of striking.
However, said Shields, there is no job action planned as the two sides try to compromise.
“The benefits package was the sticking point,” said Darren Richards, general manager of Watson and Ash.
“We’re shopping it around…and we’re hoping to have an agreement soon.”
Two months ago, workers settled for a two-year deal with two per cent wage increases in each year.
However, the benefits agreement was the sticking point which led to the strike vote.
Shields said the employer is speaking with the benefits provider to lower costs, and will also talk to other providers.
“Why should workers here in the North Island have to pay the increases in the benefit plan when their counterparts in the rest of the province don’t?” asked Shields.
“It’s pretty galling to have the lowest paid drivers get stung for benefit premiums that other drivers, who get paid significantly more, and with better retirement provisions.”
There will be no job action as negotiations continue.