Central Okanagan transit workers to start refusing overtime, impact on service expected

Transit job action escalates

UPDATE 2:15 p.m.

BC Transit is warning public transit users in the Central Okanagan that service will be impacted by the union’s overtime ban and escalating job action.

The Crown corporation said handyDART service for customers requiring transportation medical treatments has been deemed essential and will operate should there be more job action.

Riders will be informed of service cancellations as soon as possible through the NextRide app and customer alerts at bctransit.com/Kelowna

ATU 1722 job action will not impact service on the Route 90 UBCO/Vernon from the Vernon Regional Transit System, or the Route 70 Penticton/Kelowna from the South Okanagan-Similkameen Transit System.

ORIGINAL 11:45 a.m.

Drivers with Kelowna Regional Transit are escalating their job action.

ATU Local 1722 announced Wednesday its members will refuse to accept overtime shifts starting Thursday.

The overtime refusal marks the third official job action in as many weeks, with workers already refusing to wear company uniforms or enforce fare collection policies.

“We are overworked and have been for years,” said Local 1722 President Al Peressini. “We break our backs trying to keep buses running because we are chronically understaffed under First Transit’s management.”

The union says between 18 and 26 per cent of average daily bus service in Kelowna runs on “unsustainable overtime labour.” Workers are forced to cancel days off and vacations on a “regular basis” to fill staffing gaps, said the union.

As a result, the union says the overtime refusal will likely result in less frequent service.

“We are taking these restrained job actions because we care about the people we serve,” Peressini continued. “We hope they’ll contact their provincial representatives to tell them just how much this underfunding and mismanagement is hurting our city.”

The union says it sent the employer First Transit a counter proposal seven days ago but has not heard back.

“It’s not a mystery. We know what’s broken. We’re underpaid. We can’t retire or pay our bills. Workers quit every day. Those of us who stay are working ourselves into an early grave to keep Kelowna moving,” continued Peressini.

“If the province won’t bring us in-house, they can add more funding to the service or demand the billion-dollar Swedish hedge fund they let profit from this system chip in to help.”

First Transit, a multinational company owned by Sweden-based EQT Infrastructure, holds the contract to operate public transit in the Central Okanagan until March 2023. Some have been calling from BC Transit to bring the service in house, or find a new operator, after the second job action since 2016.

The union says Kelowna’s transit workers are currently earning $5 to $10 less than comparable transit systems in the province.

“The union continues to ask for the public to call their provincial representatives to demand that they take responsibility for the consequences of contracting out a public, tax-funded service to a for-profit corporation,” the union said in a news release.

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