NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. - The two sides in the Metro Vancouver transit dispute are heading back to the bargaining table just days before the union says it will escalate job action.

Unifor lead negotiator Gavin McGarrigle says he extended an offer to the employer, Coast Mountain Bus Company, to resume negotiations on Wednesday and Thursday.

Coast Mountain's president Michael McDaniel says in a statement that the company welcomes the union's return to the table and he's optimistic they can find common ground.

McGarrigle also announced Tuesday that all drivers will begin refusing overtime on Friday if an agreement can't be reached, affecting 10 to 15 per cent of Metro Vancouver's bus service.

For now, McGarrigle says the overtime ban for drivers will only be on Friday, but if a deal can't be negotiated that job action would expand into next week.

The union representing 5,000 transit operators began strike action Nov. 1.

An overtime ban by maintenance workers has already impacted bus service and prompted numerous cancellations on the SeaBus, a passenger ferry that connects Vancouver and North Vancouver.

The statement from Coast Mountain says 11 bus routes were disrupted Tuesday either because buses were taken out of service for maintenance or there weren't enough operators to drive them.

McGarrigle says the union's ban on maintenance overtime has led to delays for bus riders.

"Last week, we saw dozens of bus routes impacted, especially on Thursday and Friday. We know that the spares that they have, they're really running out of them fast and so that will continue to ramp up all week long."

McGarrigle says skilled workers who fix Metro Vancouver's SkyTrain earn $3 an hour more than transit employees who do similar work for Coast Mountain. He also notes Toronto transit workers make about $2.85 an hour more than operators in Metro Vancouver.

"We're going to give it Wednesday, we're prepared to go Thursday. But ultimately if this escalates on Friday, it will be the company to blame and not the workers," McGarrigle says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2019.

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