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BCGEU says Western Pacific Marine agree to return to bargaining table; no dates confirmed

People carried signs onto the ferry during Saturday’s Unity 2.0 rally to send a message this dispute needs to end, and soon. — Submitted photos

There may be some movement in the contract dispute between the two parties involved in the Kootenay Lake Ferry dispute after a representative from the BC Government and Service Employees Union said the employer, Western Pacific Marine has agreed to return to the bargaining table.

The union rep said, however, a date to return to bargaining hasn’t been confirmed yet.

This news comes after a tentative agreement was reached last week between the BCGEU and Waterbridge Ferries and Waterbridge Equipment, operators of Arrow Lake, Adams Lake and Francois Lake ferries.

The tentative agreement came following two exhausting days of bargaining in Kelowna.

“From day one our members have been focused on getting a collective agreement that addresses recruitment, retention and successorship,” said Stephanie Smith, BCGEU president in a media release.

“This deal does all of that, and that’s what it will take to make these ferries sustainable for the future. I’m very impressed with the hard work from both sides in getting this done.”
 
The union said highlights of the tentative agreement include achieving wage parity with BC Ferries within the three-year term and a successorship training commitment from the employer that would ensure existing members have training opportunities and career paths in the service. 

Western Pacific Marine, which employs 80 BCGEU members and operates service on Kootenay Lake, includes the MV Osprey and MV Balfour as well as Harrop and Glade Ferries. The Harrop and Glade Ferries have not be affected by the recent service interruptions by the BCGEU members due to a Labour Relations Board ruling.

Smith said the tentative agreement with Waterbridge demonstrates the company’s commitment to the people, businesses and communities that rely on the ferry system.

“I’m hopeful that Western Pacific Marine will follow Waterbridge’s example and work with our members to keep their services sustainable,” Smith said.

Last Saturday, concerned citizens and organizations from both sides of Kootenay Lake joined demonstrated during Unity Sailing 2.0, a grassroots rally organized to send a clear message calling for quick resolution of the labour dispute that has created an uncertain ferry schedule for months.

“As people living with this uncertainty every day, we are talking with everyone we can to make the point that this can’t go on much longer,” said organizer Megan Rokeby-Thomas.

“We have a clear message – all three parties involved in the delivery of the service – BCGEU, the contractor and the provincial government – need to work out a speedy solution that will restore regular and dependable ferry service on Kootenay Lake.

“We, as the community, are eager to help in any way we can.”

The grassroots group Our Ferry Matters was supported by the RDCK Director, Kootenay Lake Chamber of Commerce vice-president, executive director of Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism, executive member of the Balfour Historical and Business Association, Kokanee Springs Resort and Yasodhara Ashram, among others. 

“It’s not over but I feel we are making progress,” Rokeby-Thomas said.

Our Ferry Matters organizers address the rally prior to boarding the ferry at Kootenay Bay. — Submitted photo

People from both sides of the Kootenay Lake Ferry staged a rally at the Balfour landing. — Submitted photo