Striking Chilliwack bus driver Richard McManus told the crowd at Five Corners Wednesday that being without a contract from employer First Transit for three years has pushed everyone to the breaking point.
The transit workers of CUPE 561 are fighting for fair wages and a pension.
“We care deeply about the communities we serve,” McManus shouted above the din. “We are here now on strike because this job is no longer sustainable. Without a fair contract, many members will be seeking opportunities elsewhere.”
McManus has been a bus driver and trainer for nine years and said he loves his job. He and his co-workers kept buses running “as much as possible” in the Eastern Fraser Valley through the trials and tribulations of the pandemic, flooding, and heat dome.
“It doesn’t matter what was thrown at us we kept showing up and doing our jobs.”
But now without a contract, and without their employer doing anything to restart negotiations, they have their backs against the wall.
“We all have our breaking point,” McManus said. “This company has now pushed us to that point. We demand to be treated fairly.”
The rally is part of strike action by CUPE 561 members that has suspended all bus service from Abbotsford to Hope since March 20, with the exception of essential services for HandyDART passengers in Abbotsford and Mission for renal, MS, or cancer appointments.
Abbotsford bus driver and trainer Elizabeth Roux said they deserve to earn comparable wages, not being paid 32 per cent less than other transit drivers doing the exact same job in other neighbouring Metro Vancouver communities.
“So people in the community have been asking why now, why are we disrupting their lives?” Roux said. “It’s taken many years for us to get fed up to the point of going on strike because we never wanted to take bus service away from the communities.”
The transit drivers never wanted to see it go this far, she said adding: “We gave the company so many opportunities to treat us fairly and they pushed us to this point.”
The rally attracted a boisterous crowd of more than 100, mainly union members who showed up in solidarity to make some noise, wave flags and signs at passing traffic.
The union has been on full strike since March 20, before which they engaged in several three-day shut-downs and other job actions, including not collecting fares.
The affected communities are Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs and Hope.
“Almost a month later, there is no end in sight with this employer because they refuse to come to the table with a fair deal,” CUPE BC president Karen Ranalletta said.
“And we’re standing out here today on the Five Corners so that the public can see that we are ready to keep fighting and we will keep at it for as long as it takes.”
The Metro Vancouver region’s transit is run by Translink, a Crown corporation, while the Eastern Fraser Valley is sub-contracted out to First Transit.
CUPE 561 represents approximately 210 First Transit employees, including drivers, mechanics, utility people and bus washers.
Also this week, a hearing should be held in B.C. Supreme Court with the union responding to a civil claim filed by the First Transit, which claims workers are committing “unlawful acts” during picketing.
First Transit alleges that union members have been obstructing vehicles and people from entering and leaving bus yards in Abbotsford and Chilliwack, and that they have “intimidated, coerced, threatened, harassed and interfered with” their employees, contractors and others.
A CUPE spokesperson told Black Press Monday that the union would not comment other than to say that they dispute the claims.
“Our members are engaged in peaceful picketing as they are entitled to do under the Charter,” the spokesperson, who asked not to be named, said via email.
“These allegations by First Transit have not been decided upon by the court.”
The company is seeking an interim and permanent injunction, as well as general and special damages.
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