Demonstrators took to the streets of Mission on Saturday (June 10) to call for an end to the Fraser Valley transit strike.
Just under 20 members of the Mission Self Advocates Group – an organization of people with disabilities – displayed signs at the corner of Lougheed Highway and the Cedar Connector.
The group’s president Bryce Schaufelberger, vice president Tracy Martin and advisor Arlene Schouten were also present for the demonstration.
“The purpose of the demonstration was to bring awareness to the issue and keep some pressure on both sides to negotiate in good faith now that a mediator has been appointed,” Schouten said.
The ongoing labour dispute between First Transit and CUPE Local 561 resulted in the suspension of bus services on March 20 after the union went on strike. Vince Ready was appointed by the province to mediate the dispute on June 8 with a 10-day timeline.
The strike has proved challenging for Mission Self Advocates Group members who depend on bus services.
“They can’t afford a taxi. I mean, they live on a disability pension and they work part-time. So taxis are just not realistic,” Schouten said.
Schouten says many of the members have jobs downtown and are struggling to get to work, in addition to medical appointments and grocery shopping.
“It’s been quite a struggle because they have to redo their whole schedule and then it takes quality time away from their programs,” Schouten said.
Members are depending on friends, family and coworkers for drives while others walk. Schouten says many of their family members are seniors and the people that are walking are getting tired. The hot weather and smoke-filled air are also putting the health of the walking members at risk, Schouten says.
“Their mental health is starting to really show they’re exhausted,” Schouten said. “They feel like they’re a burden on their family members because they’re always having to ask for rides.”
The Mission Association of Community Living has also pitched in to drive some members to programs.
Schouten says the group is empathetic to the union’s desire for equal pay compared to other communities. With Ready implemented as a mediator, the group is optimistic about an end to the dispute.
“It gives them a little bit of hope,” Schouten said. “[Ready] has a really good record, so we’re hoping that this is going to get resolved within 10 days, and they’ll come to some conclusion.”
The Mission Self Advocates Group is urging both sides of this dispute to find a resolution now.
“I really don’t think they can go much longer,” Schouten said. “I mean, people are really getting very tired.”