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Union sets deadline for strike action

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Whistler Transit vows to keep negotiating until a deal reached

Whistler Transit Limited is confident that local bus services in Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton will not be caught up in strike action, saying that it will persevere with employee contract negotiations until a solution is reached.

Members of the Canadian Auto Workers have set Friday, April 13 as the deadline for an agreement or they will take strike action.

"If there is not a settlement in place by midnight on April 12 th , 2001, we will have no choice but to shut down both Whistler and Squamish Transit," said Todd Romanow, president of CAW Local 114.

However, Whistler Transit local manager Scott Pass says management has no intention of letting this happen.

"We will keep going with the negotiations until we come to an agreement," Pass said.

In late March, 63 Whistler Transit employees voted 93 per cent in favour of strike action should their contract demands not be met or a compromise attained. Their three-year contract expired on March 31, along with other transit agreements currently being negotiated with different employers in the Lower Mainland. The former contract conditions are being carried over in the interim.

The CAW, which represents the Whistler Transit workers, says three days of talks have been scheduled from April 10, 2001 with the employer, Pacific Western Transportation Limited (PWT). Whistler Transit is a wholly owned subsidiary of PWT, one of Canada’s largest privately owned people transportation companies.

Romanow says employees are demanding a 13 per cent pay increase to bring them up to the same level as Vancouver transit staff. They also want the ceiling lowered on benefit privileges, so more employees qualify for medical, dental and welfare coverage. The union claims that only 17 of the current 63 member workforce can receive benefits.

Whether the talks will maintain solely between employees and the employer is uncertain. Romanow says ideally the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the provincial government should be brought to the bargaining table, because they hold the purse strings.

"The municipality pays for 43 percent of local transit costs while the government pays the remainder through BC Transit, yet we are talking with Whistler Transit and PWT who are effectively only the managers," he says. "This creates a real quandary for us because Whistler Transit needs to go approach these authorities to get more money for these workers."

Romanow says he has been trying unsuccessfully to contact Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly to bring him into the talks.

However, Ron Burrows, the general manager of Whistler Transit Limited, says such a move would be irrational. "We have our contract with BC Transit and the municipality over the cost of the service, and that agreement is not going to change," he explains. "The union represents our employees and our contract with them, and to talk about bringing in third parties that are totally outside this contract does not make sense."

Burrows stresses that all talks should remain between the union representing Whistler Transit workers and PWT, as the sole employer. The CAW says any agreement reached with the company over wages will be retroactive to April 1, 2001.

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