What would happen if Metro Vancouver transit workers move into a “good work” strike? That could happen, if Unifor gets “creative” with their job action, as union representatives have alluded to.
Speaking prior to the strike, Unifor western regional director Gavin McGarrigle said the strike will go on go on for as long as necessary.
“We’re prepared to be patient. We’re prepared to be creative,” McGarrigle told reporters on Oct. 31, the day before the job action began. Transit workers are asking for guaranteed breaks and wages closer to SkyTrain and Toronto area transit workers.
Since then, bus drivers have ditched their uniforms and maintenance workers have refused overtime, leading to dozens of SeaBus cancellations and disruptions to some bus routes.
The 5,000 transit workers represented by Unifor work for Coast Mountain Bus Company, not TransLink directly, so SkyTrain is unaffected by the strike.
On Wednesday morning, Unifor and the bus company sat down at the bargaining table after a more than weeklong break. Both sides have said they are hopeful a deal can be reached and this morning, CMBC president Michael McDaniel said they were “open to improving our overall proposal at the bargaining table.”
Negotiations had initially broken down on the evening of Oct. 31, and the strike has gone on for 13 days as of Wednesday. If both sides don’t reach a deal, bus drivers will refuse overtime shifts for Friday, leading to service disruptions of an estimated 10-15 per cent.
McGarrigle has said “there are things we could do with respect to fare collection.”
But what would that mean?
Thomas Knight, a professor of organizational behaviour and human resources at the UBC Sauder School of Business, said such job action is called a “good work” strike.
“It would certainly be provocative, and an escalation that might make it more difficult to negotiate on the issues,” Knight told Black Press Media by phone.
“The company would not look favourably on that.”
Says @UniforTheUnion won’t mess with the public, will be honest but maybe have to get “creative” about job action. Tomorrow: no uniforms, no overtime. Later, maybe decreased fare collection? @BlackPressMedia— Kat Slepian (@katslepian) October 31, 2019
Good work strikes are rare; Knight couldn’t think of one that’s happened in B.C. in recent history. Worldwide, the Industrial Workers of the World union said there have been at least three, including a 1968 transit strike in Lisbon where workers gave free rides to passengers to protest for wage increases.
Knight said not collecting fares could work as a pressure tactic.
“What they’re trying to do is appeal to a section of their ridership,” he said.
“But who knows how much support they have.”
What a good work strike could do is bring senior government attention to the issue. Earlier this month, Premier John Horgan said the province had “no plans to interfere.”
But speaking last week, the premier warned that won’t happen again.
“I’ll remind you that the last time the Official Opposition was in government there was a four-month transit strike in Vancouver and I can assure you that won’t happen on my watch,” Horgan said while attending an event in Courtenay. The strike the premier referred to took place in 2001, and was the last strike held by transit workers in Metro Vancouver.
But when that would be remains uncertain, particularly, Knight said, in a union-friendly NDP government.
The Liberal government “legislated the terms and ordered them back to work,” he said. “This government I suspect would step in much earlier… but I don’t think their first act would be to legislate the terms of an agreement.”
Instead, the NDP is likely to direct the parties back to mediation, Knight noted.