Workers on the longest free ferry service in the world will be walking off the job Saturday.
DriveBC issued a notice Thursday morning that “there will be no ferry service at Kootenay Lake due to management-labour dispute starting Saturday, August 31 until further notice.”
“It’s unfortunate it’s come to this, strikes are always tools of last resort. It’s unfortunate that’s where we’re at,” says Stephanie Smith, the president of the BC Government and Service Employees Union.
“But we hope the employer understands the seriousness and commitment and solidarity of our members, and we ask the community to rally around that.”
Smith says the union will shut down the service for all but emergencies over the long weekend, but will resume full service on Tuesday.
“It’s a targeted job action,” she says. “We will resume full service after the long weekend, but will remain in a legal strike position. If we need to withdraw services, however, we are in a position to do that.”
The ferry workers have been in a legal strike position since voting 100 per cent in favour of labour action to press their demands with their employer, Western Pacific Marine.
The 80 members of the BC Government and Service Employees Union Local 2009 are pushing for better wages and working conditions, as well as “to address serious issues of training, retention and recruitment of qualified marine professionals,” the union says.
“Due to a lack of competitive wages and benefits, and the marine industry is very competitive one, we are unable to recruit and retain staff,” says Smith. “So the future of these ferries is under question, the employer is not investing in a labour force that ensures it will remain viable.”
The Kootenay Lake ferry connects the East Shore of Kootenay Lake with Nelson and points west on Highway 3A. For residents of Crawford Bay, a strike would more than double the one-hour trip to Nelson.
No strike action for Glade, Harrop
The strike does not affect the Glade and Harrop ferries. For both those communities, the ferries offer the only service in and out of town.
Smith says the union won’t be taking any job action in those communities.
“We will be maintaining 100-per-cent services for those,” says Smith. “If there are no road options, we’ll maintain 100-per-cent service.”
The union and employer met last week with the B.C. Labour Relations Board to establish service levels in the event of a strike. Smith says the LRB basically agreed to the union’s request for job action — allowing it on the Kootenay Ferry, while maintaining services at the other locations.
The Arrow Lakes and Adams Lake ferries are also nearing job action, but under a different union local. Smith says they have not heard back from the LRB on what the essential service levels will be for those ferries yet.