On Saturday, October 24 Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1724 — representing 500 drivers throughout the Lower Mainland operating HandyDart, a specialized bus service for people with disabilities — held a rally of approximately 300 drivers, riders and supporters in Burnaby, British Columbia. The rally announced a strike that began October 26.
Union local President Dave Watt made it clear that this strike was not only for HandyDart drivers, but also about stopping the company from profiting off of the disabled and to provide better service. HandyDart was recently contracted out by the government-funded transit authority, TransLink, to a subsidiary of a for-profit American corporation, MVT. He stated that — since MVT took over — passengers have been having to wait up to an hour longer for trips in order to put a few more dollars in the company’s pockets.
MVT wants drivers to abandon their pension plans and forfeit a guaranteed seven and a half hour workday. The company has been attempting to fire employees who were on long-term disability and maternity leave before it took control. According to one union activist, the company began harassing drivers once it took over. Without making the union or drivers aware, this activist alleges, MVT followed employees in unmarked vehicles, pulling drivers over and asking for driver’s licenses before the company took control of the service.
Union solidarity at the rally was strong, and included the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) representing city bus drivers and the Justice for Janitors Campaign of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). B.C. NDP MLAs Raj Chouhan and Harry Bains spoke at the rally, voicing the NDP’s full support to HandyDart drivers.
Ian Beeching is a Vancouver nursing student and activist. His father is a HandyDart driver now out on strike with Local 1724.