CENTRAL OKANAGAN – Bus stops in Kelowna are empty today as members of the local drivers union spend their first day on the picket line.
The Amalgamated Transit Union local 1722 walked off the job at 4:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 10 after talks with their employer broke down this week.
Drivers, office and maintenance staff took positions at several high-visibility stops around Kelowna, including City Hall, the Queensway Bus Exchange, UBC Okanagan and Enterprise Way near the Kelowna bus depot.
ATU president Scott Lovell says the group is standing together and will remain off the job until a contract is signed with their employer, First Canada. The union wants same pay regardless of bus size, a tiered wage system and a retirement package.
The union has been threatening to strike for more than a week but the final decision wasn’t made until last-minute negotiations with First Canada fell through Wednesday.
Emma Haley, 76, says she waited 10 minutes at the Orchard Park bus stop before she noticed the sign the union has placed at stops around the city.
“I’m retired but I still have places I have to go,” she says. “I’ll take a taxi today but if this goes on too long I don’t know what I will do. I guess I'll call my daughter if I have to.”
ATU member Eli Tatarin is a city bus driver in Kelowna. He says the Orchard Park bus stop has been relatively quiet but he has had a few people show up expecting the buses to still be running.
“Nobody is calling us names, we’ve actually been getting a lot of support,” he says. “We’ve had some questions but people understand. These are working people too.”
Members of at least two other unions have showed up to give their support Thursday, including members of CUPE 338, the union representing civic workers who themselves went on strike in 2014 as well as the Union of Taxation Employees.
Several members of the ATU expressed their disappointment at recent statements issued by Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran saying the city would not get involved as this is a dispute between First Canada and the union.
The strike affects drivers in Kelowna, Lake Country, Peachland and West Kelowna.
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