Source: CUPE BC/Facebook

Between Jan. 22-24, 180 transit workers from the Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) launched a 48-hour job action. CUPE 4500 representing Transit supervisors, indicated that if a deal cannot be reached by Friday Feb. 2, it will begin a 72-hour expanded strike. 

The last collective agreement expired Dec. 31, 2022, but the bargaining for a new agreement only started on Oct.r 16, 2023. The workers’ primary demands centered around working conditions, unmanageable workloads, and a compensation offer which makes up for years of lost pay. After 14 days on the bargaining table a strike vote was held by the union on Dec. 12, where 100 per cent of the workers voted in favour. 

CMBC, as a subsidiary of B.C.’s TransLink, has blocked these demands. TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn said that the company is facing “structural deficits” and he wants the workers to pay for it. He said “this is not the time to be fighting for significantly more than what everyone else got”. However, he failed to mention that he took home a salary of nearly half a million last year. Or the fact that 20 executives collected more than $250,000 each.  Both are actually “significantly more than what everyone else gets”. 

CUPE representative Liam O’Neill has countered that already the union’s members work more overtime than straight hours, and that their wage demand would constitute less than 0.05 per cent of CMBC’s 2024 budget. Although, this may put the demands into perspective. It should be said, the union does not need to justify their wage demands based on the existing operating budget. The fact is that the B.C. government has long underfunded transit and it continues to do so—we do not need to accept their austerity budgets. 

Like other workers across Canada, they’ve been hit hard during the cost-of-living crises. The average rent alone in B.C. increased 30 per cent from 2016 to 2021—the largest increase of any province. Not to mention the wages of the working class have not kept up with inflation. All while the bosses and CEOs like Kevin Quinn took massive salaries and bonuses. 

Unlike the TransLink executive team who are nothing but a drain on the system,  the striking workers play an essential role in the running of the transit system. These workers ensure that buses and SeaBuses work safely and smoothly. Without the presence of just 180 specialized workers, both the services were suspended during the two-day strike. This again shows how even a relatively small number of organized workers play a fundamental role in society. 

The union said it will suspend any additional strike action until the provincial government’s mandated special mediation process is complete. This is a mistake. B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains appointed Vince Ready to settle the talks. Ready, according to Bains, has a “distinguished record” in settling “disputes.” 

Workers, however, may  remember Vince Ready slightly differently. In 2019, he was called in to assist in the negotiation during the Regina Co-op refinery lockout. At the time, Unifor publicly welcomed the appointment of Ready, given his past record as a union organizer decades and decades ago.  But arbitration and arbitrators are not neutral. They reflect the rules, standards, and logic of the capitalist system and the capitalist state. They first and foremost take power out of the hands of rank-and-file members on the picket lines and drag their representatives into closed-door “talks.” Without the threat of a strike, workers have little negotiating power. And, as a result, management typically gets its way. 

We saw how well this worked out in Saskatchewan. Ready’s proposed settlement was no great feat – he asked for pension clawbacks, just as management did.  Following Ready, the Co-op Refinery only doubled down, it rejected the recommendation and demanded even more concessions. 

This is yet another example of weakness inviting aggression. CUPE 4500 must learn from the past struggles and put no faith in those who represent the interest of capital. Instead, stand firm on the demands that their membership has earned! 

Reviving the old labour traditions, CUPE Local 7000 has said that their members would not be crossing picket lines should the pickets be set up around SkyTrain Station. This is a small glimpse of what labour leadership should do. Put the faith in the organic links of the working class.  With a 100 per cent strike vote, workers are clearly ready to fight and win!