The Central Okanagan could see its first transit strike in nearly six years.
Unionized Kelowna transit drivers have voted 97 per cent in favour to approve a strike vote, if necessary, to back their contract demands.
“We took a strike vote last night (Aug. 28), said Al Peressini, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722.
“We’ve been negotiating since February with First Transit and they haven’t brought us any money until just last week, and it was well below anything so we didn’t even take that to the membership.”
Peressini told Capital News one of the biggest issues is that the transit system in the Central Okanagan needs more funding.
“The company can’t hire and retain professional, reliable workers,” he said. “They can’t afford to live here.”
Right now they’re averaging about 50 per cent of the people they train stay, added Peressini.
Once hired, drivers are not guaranteed hours, have no benefits, and work as needed, on call. Once trained and certified with a Class 2 licence and air ticket, Peressini said many drivers leave.
“They go and find other driving jobs where they’re guaranteed 40 hours (a week), and benefits. So we’re after a living wage for our members.”
Peressini added because of a driver shortage many routes are not being covered properly or at all.
“To me that’s wrong,” he said. “A company is hired to provide a service, yet they aren’t providing the service.”
Although drivers have voted to approve a strike vote, it doesn’t mean they will necessarily walk off the job.
“That’s our last resort,” explained Peressini. “We don’t want to disrupt service for customers. “The area is growing and transit should be growing to meet the demand, but the private company is not doing it.”
Drivers have been without a contract since March this year. The last transit strike in the Central Okanagan was 2016.