Transit workers in Kelowna, Vernon and Salmon Arm have voted nearly 100 per cent in favour of strike action.

Kelowna transit workers are represented by a separate union than Vernon and Salmon Arm, but both unions announced the strike vote within less than a week of each other.

"Wages and benefits are so low that the company cannot retain or recruit qualified workers. An underfunded transit system means poor service for riders and poor conditions for workers," president of Kelowna's Amalgamated Transit Union local 1722, Al Peressini, said in an Aug. 29 news release.

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Those transit workers all work for the same company, First Canada, which holds third-party contracts with B.C. Transit across the region.

"First Transit doesn't care about their riders and workers. All it cares about is making a profit on the backs of its employees. The result is a transit system that isn't working, riders being stranded and a city suffering," union president John Costa said in the release.

Kelowna transit workers voted in 97% in favour of potential strike action, while Vernon and Salmon Arm voted 98.5% in favour.

Vernon and Salmon Arm transit workers form Unifor Local 114, which is the same that represents Kamloops transit workers.

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Bus drivers and transit workers, past and present, have told that the Kamloops transit system has struggled to retain and recruit enough drivers.

Some drivers are overworked, making up for the lack of drivers, and transit riders relying on the service are left with frequent service disruptions.

The Kamloops local already has a contract in place but "systemic issues" with the local transit system caught the attention of city councillor Sadie Hunter.

"I received a number of concerns over the last couple of weeks around service delivery and staffing that's been highlighted in the media," Hunter said at an Aug. 30 council meeting. "It seems like it's more of a structural issue within the organization, something that's not in our control."

She plans to discuss the shortfalls in the Kamloops bus system with the province's Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming at the next Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting, Hunter said at the council meeting.

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Central Okanagan transit workers last took strike action to Kelowna city streets in 2016, and the subsequent collective agreement with those employees expired in March 2022.

Although both unions have voted in favour of strike action, there is no public indication that employees will yet commit to picket lines. The votes, effectively, issue a warning that employees are prepared for strike action "if necessary" as the continue attempts to negotiate with First Canada.

Unifor Local 114 announced the strike vote on Aug. 23.

First Canada did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

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