On the Labour Day long weekend there was no ferry service between Balfour and Kootenay Bay.
The 80 members of the BC Government and Service Employees Union Local 2009, who staff the ferries, were pushing for better wages and working conditions, as well as “to address serious issues of training, retention and recruitment of qualified marine professionals.”
After the long weekend the ferries resumed sailing, then shut down several times on weekends in October but only for specific sailings, with very little notice to the public.
These intermittent disruptions were the result of an overtime ban imposed by the union while negotiations proceeded.
Residents from the East and West shores formed the organization Our Ferry Matters, which held rallies to protest the interruptions in the ferry service.
“We are coming together to take a stand for a safe, reliable, sustainable ferry service over the long-term,” said Megan Rokeby-Thomas, owner of Ladybug Coffee and an organizer of the rally.
“All our lake communities’ economies are linked, and any disruption to our ferry affects small business and employment on both sides of Kootenay Lake. Lives, jobs, and educations are at risk.”
In early October, Western Marine Pacific publicly stated the wage package the union was demanding would be unaffordable to the company.
BCGEU president Stephanie Smith, in an email to the Star, admonished Western Pacific for “bargaining through the media.”
Each side also accused the other of refusing to continue negotiations. But they returned to the bargaining table in early November and reached an agreement by the end of the month.
The agreement includes provisions similar in principle to the collective agreement between the union and the other two inland ferries employers — WaterBridge Ferries and Waterbridge Equipment. That agreement was overwhelmingly ratified by union members in October.
These provisions included wage parity with BC Ferries within the term of the agreement and a commitment to successor-ship training that will protect existing members.