By Andrew Mitchell
On Tuesday morning the union representing Greyhound bus drivers in Western Canada issued a formal strike notice, with the possibility that workers will walk off the job as early as today, Thursday, May 17.
Representatives from the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1374 met with company officials on Tuesday afternoon to again voice their demands and attempt to negotiate a settlement. At press time on Wednesday, May 16, there was still no word whether Greyhound, owned by Chicago-based Laidlaw International, would agree to demands.
In a press release on the Greyhound website, the company let customers know about the possibility of future service disruptions.
“We presented a fair and equitable offer for our ATU-represented employees, and we’re disappointed in the outcome of the latest vote,” said Brad Shephard, senior vice president of Greyhound Canada. “However, we are committed to continue working with the union on an agreement to avoid any disruption in service.”
The affected provinces include B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as well as service between Winnipeg and Toronto and Ottawa.
The ATU is asking for increased wages and better working conditions, suggesting that the company has become more Americanized since Laidlaw purchased the transit company 10 years ago. Since then working conditions have deteriorated, according to Local 1374 president Jim Higgs.
The union has met with Greyhound management four times since October of 2006, says Higgs, but made no progress.
It’s unknown what kind of demands the union is making, and no information is posted on the union website at www.atu1374.com . Their last collective bargaining agreement with the company expired on Dec. 31, 2006.
The impact on Whistler is unknown. However, the Squamish commuter service between Whistler and Squamish, operated by Whistler Transit, ended in late April, and several hundred resort employees travel between the communities by bus.
According to Fairmont Cheateau Whistler general manager Michael Kaile, he discussed the issue with human resources when he learned of the strike and does not think it will affect operations.
“At this point we don’t really feel it, we have enough people here that are well-established and have been here for a number of years, and they car pool,” he said. “Obviously nobody would want a strike here, it’s not good for any tourism-related business and we hope it’s averted.”
According to Breton Murphy of Tourism Whistler, about 95 per cent of regional visitors travel to Whistler using personal vehicles.
“When we look at the potential impact (of the strike) and look at our numbers, it’s a relatively small proportion of visitors to Whistler in the summer season that travel by bus. We do get some international visitors, but many of them take carriers from the airport. Obviously we’ll be monitoring the situation to see if any changes to carrier service to Whistler impact visitor travel to Whistler. There’s probably a greater impact on staff.”
As for other carriers picking up the slack in the event of a strike, Gray Line spokesman Ian Robertson said its resources are tied up in the company’s tourism business.
“We are primarily a sightseeing business,” he said. “During the winter we have more of our fleet available for passenger service, but for the spring and summer we’re fully booked and don’t have any additional equipment or drivers available.”
Perimeter Transportation and Snowbus did not return calls for comment. It’s unknown whether Squamish and Whistler municipal governments would resurrect the winter commuter service during the strike.