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The Vancouver International Airport (YVR) from the Canada Line, November 26, 2010. Vancouver, BC. (Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail/Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail)
The Vancouver International Airport (YVR) from the Canada Line, November 26, 2010. Vancouver, BC. (Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail/Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail)

Canada Line workers to take strike vote Add to ...

Nearly 200 workers for the Canada Line will take a strike vote this week after months of negotiations that have failed to produce a contract.

But both the union and the employer played down the possibility of a labour disruption involving the popular commuter service that links downtown Vancouver with Richmond and Vancouver International Airport.

"It's part of the normal course of labour negotiations," said Jason Chan, a spokesman for Protrans BC, which operates the Canada Line under a 35-year contract. "It's the next logical step for the union. And at Protrans BC, we are still hopeful that we can negotiate a first collective agreement with our employees."

Canada Line workers joined the B.C. Government Employees' Union in August of 2009, around the same time the line opened. Negotiations between the union and Protrans began in January of last year and with the help of a mediator have been under way since, BCGEU spokesman Brian Gardiner said on Monday.

The 180 workers - including control room operators, maintenance personnel and attendants - will vote Tuesday and Wednesday, with the result expected later in the week.

"At this point, there's no interest in any disruptions or work stoppages and I think the fact that we have been at the table for a year now, in and out of mediation - we want to get the agreement," Mr. Gardiner said.

"That's our No. 1 objective - but it's important for the employer to realize how important these negotiations are for employees."

Neither side would discuss contract talks in detail, but Mr. Gardiner said pension benefits are one area of employee concern.

Protrans, a subsidiary of Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin Inc., is one of several private operators that provide transportation under the TransLink umbrella.

Since it opened in 2009, the $2-billion Canada Line has been popular, with average weekday ridership hitting 100,000 at the one-year mark, three years earlier than predicted in ridership forecasts.

The system has been linked to rising property values along the Cambie Corridor and in Richmond.

During construction, the project came under fire for hiring foreign workers, some of whom took complaints of poor pay and discrimination to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, which in a 2008 ruling found Latin American workers had been discriminated against and ordered back pay for affected employees. That ruling is under appeal.

Contract negotiations are also under way for employees of Coast Mountain Bus Company, which runs most of Metro Vancouver's bus service, and British Columbia Rapid Transit Company, which runs SkyTrain.

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