New offer parks union’s Valley bus strike plans

An 11th hour tentative deal reached Tuesday morning with transit workers in the Cowichan Valley Regional District averted job action.

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Transit users throughout the region were bracing for a strike this week, but an 11th hour tentative deal reached Tuesday morning with transit workers in the Cowichan Valley Regional District averted job action.

Unifor Local 114 — the union representing the region’s transit workers — and employer First Canada had been unable to reach an agreement on a new contract. On Jan. 29, the union issued its 72-hour strike notice.

Jay Brock, spokesperson for First Canada, said Monday he could not provide specific details about negotiations since the strike notice was issued.

“But I can tell you that we’re continuing to negotiate with the union,” he said.

“We have a good relationship with Unifor and we’re continuing the discussion,” Brock said.

Stu Shields, national representative for Unifor, reported Tuesday afternoon that First Canada applied for a Final Offer Vote on a “significantly improved offer.”

“Originally it seemed to me that this was literally nothing more than a delay tactic putting off the inevitability of a strike from tomorrow until Monday of next week,” Shields said, but he was “stunned to  learn that the final offer that the employer had tabled last Friday was being amended to include a modified version of the premium that is being paid to BC Transit drivers as a result of the settlement last summer.”

Shields said transit workers know the stakes and “nobody wants to go on strike” but they were not willing to settle for less — in terms of percentages — than the deal Victoria transit workers received last August.

BC Transit contracts First Canada to operate its services in the Valley, and is not directly involved in negotiations between the employer and its unionized work force. Mike Russell, media and public relations advisor for BC Transit, emphasized this point when he spoke with the Citizen on Monday.

The new deal being offered is for four years and will see an additional 20 cents per hur in each year of the deal, retroactive to April 1, 2015, Unifor said.

The offer will be put to a vote on Thursday evening, and if accepted, there will be no disruptions in bus service. If rejected, strike action will begin on Monday of next week.

Shields said he believes the deal will be ratified.