Transit workers had 20 minutes of negotiations this morning with First Transit, the company that operates the regional transit system in the Central Okanagan.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722, which represents the workers, has spent the past eight weeks taking escalating job action, such as not collecting fares and banning overtime, but this is the first time First Transit has come back to the bargaining table.

The union says a full strike that will shut down the transit system will likely start at 4 a.m. tomorrow, Oct. 5, and it's scheduled a news conference for 8 a.m.

“They did call and allowed us one day of bargaining, which is today,” Darrah Teitel, a labour organizer with the union told earlier this afternoon. “We are at the table right now but, unfortunately they came unprepared. They didn’t bring a counter proposal to the table this morning so they were there for about 20 minutes and they’ve gone upstairs and we’re waiting.”

The bargaining is being done at the Ramada Hotel in Kelowna.

READ MORE: Transit, not a second crossing, is the solution for Central Okanagan's bridge, highways: planners

Earlier today, the company put out a news release saying it was offering up to 9% wage increases over three years.

“The package they’re describing is the one we walked away from in late August,” Teitel said. “It’s disingenuous to say they are offering us 9% over three years.”

The offer is actually for 2% in the first year and 1.5% in each of the second and third years, with a cost of living adjustment in the last two years. That is limited to maximum increase of 3%, each year, Teitel said. That means the offer actually totals 8%.

“The cost of living is 9% just for this year,” she said.

The Central Okanagan transit system is one of three Tier One systems in B.C., along with Vancouver and Victoria, she said.

Those workers get $5 to $10 an hour more than Kelowna drivers so the local union is seeking parity with those contracts.

“If we could achieve parity, or even something close to parity with other transit systems, then we would have a hope in hell of attracting and retaining the workers in Kelowna we need to make the system run better,” Teitel said. “Kelowna’s transit system is understaffed. It’s underfunded and the money it would take to fix that is being sent overseas.”

First Transit is owned by BQT, a Swedish private equity fund, she said.

Ultimately, the union wants B.C. Transit to remove First Transit and run the Central Okanagan system itself, as it does in Victoria.

“We will try to keep them at the bargaining table, negotiating in good faith as long as it takes, but we don’t have high hopes that they care enough to bring us or this community the respect we deserve,” Local 1722 President Al Peressini said in a news release. “Although it isn’t inevitable, we, unfortunately, believe that we will be on the picket like tomorrow.”

Ridesharing company Uride is offering discounts on rides from Oct. 5 to Oct. 16. If you book a ride on the app, enter promo code HERE4U to get the discount of up to $10.

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