Kelowna regional transit employees are refusing to work overtime hours as of today as the labour dispute with First Transit continues.

Last week, drivers began refusing to collect fares as part of their job action against First Transit. Today, Sept. 15, they began refusing to work overtime.

Kelowna transit workers, part of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 1722, voted 97% in favour of strike action as they continue to negotiate with First Transit.

READ MORE: Free transit in Kelowna starts today as labour dispute continues

Union president Al Peressini said the issue lies with how employees are scheduled and retained. New hires may remain as casual employees for up to two years before receiving full-time work and many new hires are receiving their Class 2 licenses with air-brake certifications and then leaving for higher-paying jobs.

First Transit is contracted by B.C. Transit to operate the bus system in multiple cities across the province, including the Central Okanagan region. The union's most recent contract expired in March.

Between 18 to 26% of the average daily bus service in Kelowna runs by relying on unsustainable overtime labour, according to the latest press release from the union.

Peressini said a full-on walkout will be used only as a last resort. They want to negotiate a new contract with First Transit but they have not received a response from the company in the last 10 days.

First Transit is supposedly ramping up the level of service this month but can't do so because they don't have enough employees, he said.

The Kelowna regional transit system currently has 108 full-time drivers and roughly 50 casuals and they need about 113 to 115 full-time drivers and 50 to 60 casuals to maintain demand.

“It’s impossible to keep casuals because they’re only working limited hours so they can’t afford to pay rent or mortgages before they move on,” he said.

The union wants to force B.C. Transit to take over the system as it did in Victoria, or put pressure on First Transit to fix the issues, Peressini said.

The reduced service will continue for the foreseeable future.

B.C. Transit is warning the strike action is impacting service in the area, including the handyDART service.

In response to the decrease in bus services, Uride is offering up to 50% off all rides to a maximum of $10 off starting today, Sept. 15, until Sunday, Sept. 25.

UBC Okanagan is also encouraging staff and students to pursue other methods of transportation and warned of delays with the bus system due to the strike action. 

“We anticipate that there will be an increased demand for parking on campus due to the potential transit disruptions,” according to the university’s announcement.

First Transit did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

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