CHILLIWACK – A boisterous noon-hour rally in support of striking CUPE 561 members had a strong message for the Crown corporation that contracts out transit services in the Fraser Valley: BC Transit needs to live up to its responsibility to provide public transit for the region and is failing the public by remaining outside the dispute.
At the rally, held at the busy Five Corners intersection of downtown Chilliwack, speaker after speaker called on BC Transit to put an end to the strike, now 24 days into a complete shutdown of transit services in the Valley. Negotiations with the employer First Transit, a private, U.S.-based corporation, have been at a standstill for several weeks.
“The buses say BC Transit, the buildings say BC Transit, and the cheques that First Transit is still receiving throughout this strike say BC Transit, but the workers don’t earn BC Transit wages or a pension,” said the rally’s host, CUPE BC President Karen Ranalletta.
“It’s time for BC Transit to take responsibility for the failure of their contractor, and do the right thing to support transit users and workers in the Fraser Valley.
Ranalletta questioned the wisdom of allowing public transportation services to be contracted out to a foreign corporation that has no connection to the communities it is serving.
“First Transit is unaccountable. By continuing to put their own profits ahead of fairness for workers, they only fail the residents who rely on those services,” she said.
CUPE 561 members Elizabeth Roux and Richard McManus, both drivers and trainers, shared some of the on-the-ground realities of the struggle that has led to the strike.
“Some of our most senior drivers who have given 20 to 30 years of their lives to providing public transit for their community have been forced to continue working well into their retirement years because they cannot afford to retire,” said Roux.
The commitment of CUPE 561 members was also evident in the address by McManus, who spoke of continuing to drive buses through challenges experienced by the community such as the pandemic, the heat dome, and the floods—even as some members, including himself, were evacuated from their homes.
CUPE 561 President Jane Gibbons thanked the public for their support.
“Our members never wanted to do this. We gave the employer plenty of opportunities to prevent a full strike. They were not interested,” said Gibbons.