Unions Hold Joint Meeting for Members at Coast Mountain Bus Company

July 28, 2014

The unions representing transit workers in B.C. have a long history of working together on common issues. Recently workers at Coast Mountain Bus Company have experienced particularly pressing issues. So this past Saturday, July 26, the Joint Union Committee, which is made up of representatives from MoveUP, CUPE 4500 and Unifor Locals 111 and 2200, held an open meeting in New Westminster to report out to and take questions from members who work at CMBC.

Each union’s president took a turn giving a report, starting with Unifor 111 President Nathan Woods. Nathan Woods began by talking about the overall funding issue and the anticipated transit funding referendum – one of the recurring themes of the day. He noted that the Mayors’ plan is “still weak” in that it focuses on major capital projects but not bus expansion, which is urgently needed and easier to implement in the short term.

Nathan Woods also highlighted the work done by transit unions, including COPE and Unifor, in lobbying for Bill S-221, which would require that a judge consider the possibility that an assault on a transit operator may be aggravated.

On the major SkyTrain service disruptions, Nathan Woods criticized TransLink for letting things get so bad, and cautioned that “things will only get worse if management continues to disregard the relationships with its workers, as well as the 1.1 million riders.”

The other main theme of the day was on the need for union members to work together on problems and point the finger at TransLink/Coast Mountain rather than each other.

“We’re all feeling the crunch,” Nathan Woods said, “Service cutbacks, poor equipment…that’s not the fault of any of the workers.”

MoveUP President David Black reported next and agreed, saying: “A lot of the problems at CMBC can be directly attributed to choices management is making that make it more difficult for everyone.”

But he and other leaders cautioned that management is only one issue, tying the discussion back to the upcoming referendum. “We are dealing with the effects of what is, at the end of the day, drastic underfunding of our transit system…We know how bad the employers are and the bad decisions they make, but we don’t want to feed into a narrative that says public transit is a bad thing,” Black said.

Black also expressed concerns with some aspects of the Mayors’ plan, but empathized with the frustrating position the province has put the Mayors in.

“It’s really hard to divorce the issue of funding from the issue of governance. The local governments have to defend the system because the province won’t do it, but they have no say in how it’s run…The cuts are going to get worse if the provincial government doesn’t decide it wants to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem,” Black added.

Black also introduced the other MoveUP elected and staff representatives present: Vice-President Heather Lee, outgoing Union Rep for CMBC Kevin Payne, and newly assigned Union Rep Cheryl Popeniuk.

Next, Rob Woods, president of CUPE 4500, which represents the transit supervisors, spoke about inter-jurisdictional issues and the need to resolve things internally. He said his union is on an education campaign with members about how solidarity means not causing harm to union members, even if they are members of one of the other unions. And he urged members of other unions to bring up issues internally with their union first.

“The employer seems to take great pride in overlapping duties and creating conflict,” Rob Woods said, “But no inter-union conflict gets solved by going to management.”

Finally Unifor 2200 President Joe Elworthy talked about how all the transit unions need to do a better job communicating with and engaging members:

“We need to work together with our family to get support for a transit system that’s publicly funded and publicly operated.”

Unifor BC Area Director Gavin McGarrigle echoed that comment: “We have to stop letting [the province] pit people against each other. It’s not about mobility pricing or North of the Fraser vs. South of the Fraser…We’re on the side of the passengers. We’re on the side of good, green jobs.”

During the Q&A time, members asked questions about the transit referendum, cuts to community shuttles, contracting out, and the number of managers in the company.

From members of all unions there was a sense of wondering if the cuts and changes will ever end. Kevin Payne noted MoveUP is worried there will be cuts in Customer Information because management is saying they think the customers should be waiting on hold longer.

McGarrigle cautioned though that the number of managers is only one part of the issue: “The bigger problem is the complete lack of funding.”

Members also expressed concerns that more communication is needed to get more members out to similar meetings in future, and to make sure casual and part-time members are engaged and respected.

“Activists aren’t born; they’re created…Find your gaps, find where people are falling through and grab them,” said one MoveUP member at the mic.

All the union leaders agreed this meeting was only a first step and more is needed going forward, but also encouraged the members who were there to help take the word back into the workplace and promote the next meeting.