TransLink ‘powerless’ to settle strike

The Province

By Frank Luba

Union wants binding arbitration, but U.S. contractor won’t go there

Thursday’s demonstration by unhappy HandyDart workers won’t force TransLink to get involved in the dispute between the company, to which it contracted out the service, and its workers.

About 150 striking members of Local 1724 of the Amalgamated Transit Union protested noisily outside a downtown Vancouver hotel where politicians and chief executives were attending the Metro Vancouver cities conference.

The union is demanding binding arbitration between it and employer MVT Canadian Bus Inc.

One of the chief sticking points is the company’s insistence on providing RRSPs, rather than a pension plan.

But TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said the transportation authority can’t settle the conflict.

“We have no legal status to intervene in the relations between the company and its employees,” said Hardie.

TransLink awarded the contract to the for-profit MVT after years of running the service through a variety of different organizations.

“We have been working behind the scenes with both parties to see if we can help them come to a resolution,” said Hardie. “We want to see the service restored.”

When asked if TransLink could cancel the contract with MVT because it is not providing the service, Hardie declined to comment.

“It’s not something we’re going to get in to,” he said.

HandyDart runs have been restricted to essential services such as dialysis and cancer treatment since the strike began Oct. 26.

Chuck Bryant has been working for HandyDart for 30 years, first as a driver and then in scheduling.

He was part of the protest and admitted to being “very frustrated” with the lack of progress in negotiations with American-based MVT.

“I’d like to know what kind of a deal they [TransLink] made with them to turn a non-profit into a for-profit,” said Bryant, 56.

MVT spokeswoman Zdenka Buric said the company is willing to resume negotiations but no talks are scheduled.

The company doesn’t want to go to binding arbitration.

“The parties don’t get to decide what’s going to work for them,” said Buric. “So they don’t come to a mutual decision.”

The strike affects approximately 30,000 transit-dependent disabled riders.

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