CUPE 561 members who work for First Transit are fed up with being paid 32% less than other transit operators in the region and need a fair deal that includes a wage lift while addressing poor working conditions and the lack of a pension plan, speakers told a noon-hour public rally today outside Abbotsford City Hall.

The rally, which drew nearly a hundred supporters, was hosted by CUPE 403 President Sara Manchester, attending on behalf of the Fraser Valley District and Labour Councils.

CUPE 561 President Jane Gibbons said that First Transit has failed to address the members’ concerns.

“They didn’t believe that our workers would walk out over wages and the lack of a pension plan,” said Gibbons. ‘Well, it’s clear they don’t even know our members. They don’t know that they’re fed up and ready to walk the line. However long it takes.”

CUPE’s National President Mark Hancock described the dispute as a struggle to achieve justice for Fraser Valley transit workers.

“Is it fair that these workers are paid so much less than other transit operators in the region doing the same work? Is it fair that they have to work so much overtime just to make ends meet while the company cashes in?” said Hancock. “These workers deserve so much better.”

CUPE BC General Vice-President Sheryl Burns blamed First Transit for the dispute, saying the private, U.S.-owned company is unwilling to fund a service that the public relies on and is critical for people with disabilities. BC Federation of Labour President Sussanne Skidmore said there’s no reason but greed for First Transit to pay its workers 32% less than other workers in the region.

CUPE 561 members Elizabeth Roux and Ravinder Dhaliwal shared their experience as workers with the crowd.

“We do this job because we love serving the people in our community,” said Roux. “We are taking this action now so that we can continue doing the jobs we love.”

Dhaliwal said that he loves his job but wants to be able to have time for his family and community. “This round of bargaining is really the last chance for me to stay with this company,” he said. “If we can’t get decent wages and working conditions, I’ll have to work somewhere else.”

Passing drivers honked their horns in support throughout the rally. Gibbons thanked the public for their support and reminded rally participants to visit the strike website