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The union representing transit workers on a months-long strike in B.C.’s Sea-to-Sky region says a special mediator has been appointed after members voted to reject a tentative deal that had been recommended by their bargaining committee.

A statement from Unifor says the union and the employer, PW Transit, have agreed to work with veteran mediator Vince Ready for up to 10 days with the goal of reaching a settlement that would end the strike that began on Jan. 29.

If a settlement cannot be reached during that time, Unifor says Ready would prepare non-binding recommendations that members of Local 114 would vote on.

PW Transit, a third-party contractor for BC Transit, had released a statement saying it was “stunned and extremely disappointed” that workers in the Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton areas had voted to reject the tentative deal.

The company says it believes it had presented a fair offer reached through mediation last Friday, and it had trusted that the bargaining committee’s recommendation would result in approval of the agreement in Monday’s vote.

Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor’s western regional director, says “after two years of bargaining and failed sessions with a mediator, it’s clear a more structured process is necessary.”

Labour Minister Harry Bains released a statement saying Sea-to-Sky residents have gone without transit services for too long.

He says he appointed Ready, who would issue recommendations to end the dispute if a settlement cannot be reached, with five days allowed for the employer and the workers to either accept or reject them.

“I know both sides have been working toward a fair resolution at the bargaining table, which is the best place for a deal to be secured.”

Talks had collapsed earlier this spring, with the two sides unable to agree on achieving wage parity with transit workers in Metro Vancouver.

McGarrigle says the union plans to make submissions to Ready about the high cost of living in the region, as well as wage disparities.

PW Transit says the offer workers rejected had included wage increases from 1.5 to four per cent over the term of the agreement, along with a two per cent signing bonus and 100 per cent employer-paid benefits.

HandyDART operations in Squamish have continued throughout the job action, but all other transit in the Sea-to-Sky region is shut down.

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