Union, company agree to binding arbitration in Kelowna transit labour dispute

Buses will run Thursday

Madison Erhardt

UPDATE: 9 a.m.

The Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1722 and First Transit will enter binding arbitration to end the months-long labour dispute which effectively shut down much of the Kelowna Regional Transit System today.

During a press conference Wednesday morning, local president Al Peressini says the operator agreed late Tuesday night to enter binding arbitration.

This came more than a month after Peressini says the company rejected a similar offer from the union.

"We met yesterday. We continued negotiations up until 10 o'clock. We again offered binding arbitration and, after some back and forth they finally agreed to binding arbitration," Peressini said during Wednesday's press conference.

"What that means for the transit service, starting tomorrow we are back to regular service and we will carry on.

"But, we will not give up the fight to get rid of privatization. We believe that we have to put public back in public transit. The system is broken, it needs to be fixed and we will continue our fight to fix it."

Peressini says there is no specific timeline as to when an arbitrator will hear the case.

"The lawyers from both sides have to get together and agree on an arbitrator, get a hold of the arbitrator then he supplies some dates. I don't anticipate once we get to the arbitrator that it is going to be very long, it's just getting a seat with him."

He adds chances of getting what they want is always 50/50 when an arbitrator is involved, but believes they have a better chance this way.

"The company has told us the money is there, they just don't want to give it out which is why we have chosen this route."

In a brief statement, First Transit acknowledged binding arbitration had been agreed to and apologized to the public for the disruption of service today.

Madison Erhardt

UPDATE 8:25 a.m.

BC Transit has confirmed Kelowna Regional transit buses will run again Thursday.

The transit authority says ATU Union 1722 and First Transit have agreed to enter binding arbitration to resolve their present labour dispute.

Transit service will resume as of 5:28 a.m. Thursday.

"BC Transit sincerely apologizes for the temporary disruption of service today," BC Transit said in a news release.

"We remind customers handy/DART service for riders requiring transportation to renal dialysis, cancer treatment, multiple sclerosis and other specialist appointments has been deemed essential and will continue to operate during this service disruption today."

UPDATE: 7:30 a.m.

A full strike by Kelowna transit workers appears to have been avoided.

Mayor Colin Basran tweeted this morning that Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722 members and First Transit have agreed to binding arbitration to come to a new collective agreement.

"That means full transit service will continue again tomorrow," Basran wrote.

The union and company have yet to issue statements on the development.

ORIGINAL: 4 a.m.

People who rely on public transit in the Central Okanagan are stranded starting today.

Escalating job action by unionized drivers culminates today in a full strike.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722 members will be walking the picket lines after a last-minute meeting Tuesday between the union and employer First Transit failed to resolve the dispute.

The union has planned an 8 a.m. news conference with Mayor Colin Basran.

Drivers are pushing for increased wages and say they cannot retain staff under current compensation packages. Employer First Transit said Tuesday it has offered the drivers nine per cent over three years.

First Transit says their wage proposal would result in wage increases in aggregate of approximately 24 per cent over the last twelve years. The Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator pegs inflation at 30.7 per cent in that same time frame.

BC Transit, the Crown agency responsible for the delivery of transit services outside Greater Vancouver, says it is “closely monitoring the situation” but is not getting involved.

“We understand the frustration felt by customers, and that the job action is difficult for everyone involved in the region,” BC Transit said in a statement Tuesday night.

BC Transit contracts out the bus services for the Central Okanagan to First Transit.

Some, like RDCO board chair Loyal Wooldridge, have been advocating for BC Transit to bring the service in house and dump the contractor when its contract expires in March 2023. BC Transit has declined to comment on that possibility during the labour dispute.

handyDART service for customers requiring transportation to renal dialysis, cancer treatment, multiple sclerosis and other specialist appointments has been deemed essential and will continue to operate during the strike. All other pre-booked trips will be notified of cancellation.

ATU 1722 job action will also 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, which will run regular service.

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