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Passengers board a TransLink bus at the Commercial-Broadway Station in Vancouver, Nov. 20, 2019. Members will escalate transit strike action next week and all buses and SeaBus will be cancelled on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Metro Vancouver’s buses and SeaBuses will remain idle for three days next week in a dramatic escalation of job action as the union representing operators and maintenance workers presses for higher wages and better working conditions.

“Picketing will begin at all locations and we expect a complete shutdown of the Metro Vancouver bus system as a result,” said Gavin McGarrigle, western regional director for Unifor, the union representing the workers.

The strike action planned for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday comes after the limited job disruptions that started Nov. 1 with an overtime ban by mechanics and then expanded to add bus drivers when talks broke off between the two parties last week.

Coast Mountain Bus Company called for a mediator after negotiations broke off but Unifor argued the company is not serious about moving forward with the union’s core issues of wages, benefits and working conditions.

“How did things get so bad with driver rest time that microwaves are being installed in bathrooms and simple, minimum breaks becomes a bargaining issue held over the workers’ heads?" Mr. McGarrigle said.

Ben Murphy, a spokesman for TransLink, the municipal government agency that runs the bus company, said Coast Mountain has guaranteed better working conditions, rest times and wages in excess of public-sector settlements through a “historic offer.”

Mr. Murphy said the outstanding issue is wages.

“Throughout the whole bargaining process, there’s been back and forth,” Mr. Murphy said. “We have reached the point now where there is a $150-million gap in wages and that needs to be resolved quickly.”

Under the current offer, he said transit operators would see a wage boost of $6,100 over the next four years and skilled tradespeople a boost of $10,000, bringing their respective annual salaries to $69,000 and $88,000.

When asked if the government should get involved, Mr. Murphy said that is “a matter for the province.”

Labour Minister Harry Bains said the situation is difficult, but it is a matter between the two parties.

When asked if the province would step in to order an end to the dispute, Mr. Bains said he was encouraging both sides to get back to the bargaining table.

“They have successfully bargained numerous collective agreements together without any outside involvement. It’s our expectation that they will be able to do so again.”

The BC Liberals criticized Premier John Horgan for allowing the strike to continue for 20 days already.

Over the next few days, Mr. Murphy said the company will be “making assessments” but that it has “very limited options” in terms of immediate action.

Unifor plans to train picket captains to ensure peaceful protests during the three days next week, as well as hold a public rally at TransLink’s headquarters in New Westminster on Nov. 28.

Both parties said they understood riders’ frustration, but neither has offered an immediate solution for the 350,000 people who rely on public transit every day.

The union representing Skytrain workers, CUPE 7000, called for a strike vote earlier this week and the results will be announced after Thursday. The announcement comes after an impasse in the mediation between the union and the British Columbia Rapid Transit Company.

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