GREATER VANCOUVER I SkyTrain could be hit by a strike as early as the end of next week, the Canadian Union of Public Employees said Friday.
CUPE Local 7000, which represents 516 SkyTrain attendants, control operators, skilled trades, maintenance and clerical staff, said its members voted 90 per cent in favour of strike action.
The primary issues are wages and benefits.
It would be only the second strike in SkyTrain history. The first one, in 1999, lasted just one day -- a Sunday.
SkyTrain service has also been stopped several times when other unions picketed SkyTrain facilities and CUPE members did not cross their lines.
A SkyTrain strike likely would put even more pressure on TransLink's overcrowded major bus routes and seriously snarl traffic as tens of thousands of commuters who normally ride SkyTrain try to find other ways to get to work.
Local 7000 president Gerry Cunningham said there is a chance to avert a strike next Wednesday when negotiators for the union and for B.C. Rapid Transit Co., a TransLink operating company, take part in a mediation session. Union officials will decide after that session whether a strike is warranted.
The union wants wage, shift premium and benefit parity with other TransLink workers, such as the bus drivers employed by Coast Mountain Bus Co., and a guarantee they won't fall behind as other unions negotiate new contracts.
Before 1999, when regional transit was provided by BC Transit, Local 7000 wage rates were tied to those of other Greater Vancouver transit operations. Under a "comparator wage rate" established by mediator Vince Ready, they made 10 to 12 cents an hour more than other transit workers.
But under TransLink, which was established in 1999, "we have fallen behind," Cunningham said, "and our intention this time around is to catch up and ensure that when we do catch up, that we don't fall behind again."
In a news release, Local 7000 said the union wants "guarantees that anything gained in future TransLink subsidiary bargaining rounds are also applied to SkyTrain employees." About 4,000 TransLink subsidiary employees have yet to start bargaining for new contracts.
Local 7000 said the company's most recent offer was rejected by about two thirds of the local's members.
Negotiators have been discussing a four-year contract that would run until fall 2010. But Cunningham said the company "wants to get over the hump of the Olympics" without committing itself to possible wage escalation in the meantime.
Cunningham would not provide details of the two sides' positions, saying, "I'm trying to give the company as much of an opportunity as possible to address our concerns at bargaining."
TransLink referred questions to BC Rapid Transit, whose officials could not be reached Friday.
© The Vancouver Sun 2006