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Head of TransLink argues giving bus workers proposed wage hikes would endanger expansion plans

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The head of TransLink says meeting the current demands from Metro Vancouver’s bus union would throw the system into imbalance.

CEO Kevin Desmond’s comments come just days ahead of a possible system-wide bus and SeaBus shutdown, which would see service essentially stop on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week.

It is simply about numbers, according to Desmond, who argues paying workers what they are asking for would result in higher taxes, higher fees, or require a need to cut back on service or future expansions.

“This current dispute and the trying to achieve a labour settlement with Unifor is for 5,900 employees — most of whom are bus operators,” Desmond explained. “That’s a large number of folks, it’s dictated by collective bargaining.”

He said workers go through the bargaining process every three years, and added union member wages have “grown faster than the consumer price index.”

“We hire people for those jobs — if you’re a bus driver, if you’re a mechanic — from local sources, from people who are looking for jobs, who live in the greater region, certainly outside of TransLink’s boundaries, nowadays,” he explained, adding the transit authority needs to ensure compensation packages need to “achieve two things.”

The first is that employees are treated fairly, he said, and the second is that TransLink remains competitive in the local market.

Desmond defended executive pay increases while he warned about what hikes for bus drivers would mean for the system.

“You’re hiring from a different class of potential applicants, with very, very different market conditions,” he said of the difference between pay increases for executives and union workers.

Desmond added that the pool of qualified applicants at the executive level is smaller, and that without competitive compensation, TransLink would miss out. He told reporters a recent high-level candidate pulled out at the last minute because they got a better offer elsewhere.

“That individual really wanted the job, because it was an exciting opportunity. But at the last minute, that individual got $100,000 above out offer, and he ended up taking that job.”

He contrasts that with the number of applications that flood in for positions as bus drivers, explaining TransLink received over 10,000 applications for about 1,000 jobs recently.

The head of TransLink is urging the union to return to the bargaining table with Coast Mountain Bus Company, saying it’s not too late to avoid this work stoppage.

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