Credit to Author: Cheryl Chan| Date: Mon, 09 Dec 2019 02:31:14 +0000
Metro Vancouver commuters are bracing for what could be a chaotic week, with a potential system-wide SkyTrain shutdown set to start Tuesday if a deal between workers and management fails to materialize.
Despite talks over the weekend, the union representing 900 SkyTrain workers and the employer, the B.C. Rapid Transit Company, couldn’t come to an agreement by Sunday, causing uncertainty at the start of the work week for an estimated 150,000 people who use the Expo and Millennium lines daily.
“It’s very inconvenient and it puts unnecessary stress, especially at this time of the year,” said Nicole Alleyne, who commutes regularly from Burnaby Mountain to Cambie and Broadway streets.
With a SkyTrain shutdown, she’ll have to take the 95 bus all the way from Burnaby to Downtown Vancouver until it loops back to Broadway, which will add 45 minutes to her commute.
“Just give them what they want,” she said, expressing support for SkyTrain workers. “It’s an essential service.”
The potential work stoppage — which would start 5 a.m. on Tuesday and end 5 a.m. on Friday — was announced Saturday, after a 72-hour strike notice issued by the union Friday.
At the Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain Station, some riders questioned why the union opted for a full-on work stoppage right off the bat in contrast to the decision by striking bus drivers last week to start job action with a uniform and overtime bans.
On Sunday, CUPE 7000 president Tony Rebelo explained why the union couldn’t take such approaches.
“An overtime ban would reduce our operations department greatly, and we wouldn’t have the appropriate staff to run the system safely,” he said. “This in turn poses a greater risk for the public.”
A uniform ban won’t work either because passengers won’t be able to identify SkyTrain attendants who also step in during emergencies at the stations and platforms, he said.
“We remain committed to negotiating for a new contract at the bargaining table and reaching a deal with no disruption of service,” Rebelo said.
The union has been without a contract since Aug. 31. Issues include staffing levels, wages and forced OT and sick-leave policies. Any job action wouldn’t affect the Canada Line, West Coast Express, and the bus and SeaBus services.
TransLink spokesman Ben Murphy said a three-day shutdown would be very disruptive for the region.
“It’s going to have an enormous impact on people who rely on the Expo and Millennium lines to get to school and work and where they need to go,” he said.
TransLink will assess contingency options, such as putting more buses on routes, but Murphy warns its options are limited and it’s unable to set up bus bridges due to labour laws: “To be clear, Expo and Millennium-line service can in no way be replaced by bus service.”
SkyTrain riders should make alternative plans to get around, he said.
“At this stage, the planned job action is set to proceed,” Murphy said.
The threat of a SkyTrain shutdown also posed headaches for post-secondary students. Both the University of B.C. and Simon Fraser University said they will be operating as normal and exams will proceed as scheduled.
Sara Yip, a fourth-year student at SFU, lives in Surrey and takes two SkyTrain rides to get to the Burnaby campus. With a shutdown, “there would be no way for me to get to school,” she said. “I’ll have to either hitch a ride or carpool or get a car which I can’t afford.”
The SkyTrain shutdown threat comes on the heels of last week’s ratification of a three-year deal between Unifor, which represents bus and SeaBus workers, and TransLink’s Coast Mountain Bus Company. Both sides reached a last-minute deal in late November, hours before a three-day bus shutdown was slated to begin.