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B.C. is prepared to appoint special mediator in transit strike

Labour Minister reacts as job action impacts large parts of Metro Vancouver’s public transit system

Labour Minister Harry Bains said Monday (Jan. 22) his government is currently talking to both sides about appointing a special mediator, possibly Vince Ready, to resolve a labour dispute as job actions have shut down much of the public transit system in Metro Vancouver.

The region is home to some 2.4 million people, roughly half of B.C.’s population.

“We are talking to both parties now and make sure that they agree with a special mediator, because it is always important that the parties agree to the mediation, agree to a special mediator, agree with the process,” Bains said. Otherwise, it makes no sense to bring both parties together, he added.

He made these comments Monday afternoon at around 3 p.m., some 12 hours after more than 180 transit supervisors represented by CUPE Local 4500 had walked off the job.

Job actions scheduled to last 48 hours come after talks between the union representing striking workers and Coast Mountain Bus Company under the assistance of Ready had concluded without an agreement. The striking workers’ contract expired in October 2022 and their place in the system is crucial as they help oversee day-to-day operations among bus and SeaBus operators, who had announced that they would not cross picket lines.

The strike affects all buses and SeaBus routes operated by CMBC, a subsidiary of TransLink, the regional transit authority for Metro Vancouver.

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All SkyTrain lines, the West Coast Express, HandyDART, West Vancouver Blue Bus, Bowen Island Community Shuttles and Langley Community Shuttles continue to operate. Another 20-plus transit routes, which CMBC does not operate, also continue to operate.

But the action has nonetheless shut down most public transit in Metro Vancouver and Bains urged both sides to get back to the table given the important role public transit plays in the lives of Metro Vancouver residents.

“I know both sides understand their responsibility to the public, to their customers,” he said.

Bains said he does not know how far apart both sides are.

“But I do know one thing — the parties need to get back to the bargaining table,” he said. “That’s where the agreement needs to be negotiated because that’s the best agreement that can be negotiated, when both parties agree.”

He paired this appeal with the potential of the province appointing a special mediator, something that the province “is seriously considering.”

While Bains did not say when he might do that or who this person might be, he signalled a preference for Ready, even though he had already been part of the failed talks leading up to Monday’s job actions.

“I think that (Ready) would be the ideal situation,” he said.

Bains acknowledged Ready’s prior role, but also noted that he has had a track record.

“They call him a miracle worker and miracle mediator,” Bains said. “Even with that, it takes time for miracles to happen. But I think the idea here is that when you move them in a different role, which is a special mediator, then he would have a different responsibility.”

The current transit strike in Metro Vancouver comes after a long transit strike in the Fraser Valley that lasted 124 days.

Bains’ signal that the province might step in relatively quickly raises the question of whether the province might be treating both disputes differently.

The ministry pointed out that not having transit service challenged people who relied on it in the Fraser Valley, just as it is the case now in the Metro Vancouver. It also pointed out that the decision to appoint a special mediator varies from one labour dispute to another, based in part on the status of the bargaining between the parties.

It added that in some disputes, an appointment might occur later because the parties have not asked for assistance. As for the Fraser Valley dispute, both parties received an offer for mediation services early in the dispute.

The ministry said parties can access mediation services privately or from the BC Labour Relations Board (LRB) any time they want assistance.


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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