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BCGEU picket line at Balfour Terminal shuts down Kootenay Lake Ferry

Kootenay Lake Ferry workers stand in solidarity on the picket line Sunday at the Balfour Terminal.— The Nelson Daily photo

Members of the BC Government & Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) were on the picket lines Sunday in Balfour as part of a weekend strike that shutdown the Kootenay Lake ferry between Balfour and Kootenay Bay.

Ferry workers walked the picket line in front of the entrance ramp, shutting down the MV Osprey and MV Balfour to routine travel during the Labour Day long weekend.

DriveBC listed on its website the ferry will be out of service through Monday, September 2, with the alternate route now listed as Highway 3 Kootenay Pass.

The union said hoping pressure on the employer, Western Pacific Marine, will lead to a new collective agreement that will address long-standing issues — substandard wages, benefits and training that have created a staffing crisis for the ferry service.

However, media reports reveal the company and union are a long way apart on wages as the BCGEU looks for parity with coastal fleets.

B.C. Labour Relations Board ruled last week the Kootenay Lake Ferry can be shutdown to routine travel, but must be made avaiable for emergencies and disaster response. 

Kootenay inland ferry workers serve 72-hour strike notice

The worst-case scenario for holiday travellers wanting to use the Kootenay Lake Ferry between Balfour and the Kootenay Bay came true when the BC Government & Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) issued a 72-hour strike notice Wednesday, making it all but certain that the Kootenay Lake ferry will be shut down to routine travel over the Labour Day long weekend.

In a media release on the union website, the BCGEU said this move comes after several months of unsuccessful negotiations with the employer, Western Pacific Marine.

The union said it is hopeful a new collective agreement will address long-standing issues for ferry workers with substandard wages, benefits and training that have created a staffing crisis for the ferry service.

"Our members don't just work on these ferries, they live in ferry-reliant communities," said BCGEU president Stephanie Smith in the release.

"They know how important this service is to their friends, families and neighbours and they know what it's going to take to make it safe and sustainable for years to come. That's why they're fighting for a contract that prioritizes the recruitment and retention of highly-skilled staff in a highly competitive industry."

DriveBC said on its website that Kootenay Lake Ferry will be out of service starting Saturday, August 31. Travelers are advised to use alternate route of Highway 3, Kootenay Pass.

The union confirmed that if the ferry workers and their employer can't reach an agreement before the 72-hour notice is up, the workers will conduct a three-day strike beginning Saturday, August 31st at the Balfour Terminal of the Kootenay Lake Ferry.

The union said under the terms of an essential services ruling issued by the Labour Relations Board, the Balfour ferry will be shut down to routine travel over the long weekend but will be available for emergencies and disaster response.

Better news for the communities of Harrop/Proctor and Glade, the union said, ferry crossings at these two locations, also operated by Western Pacific Marine, will remain 100 per cent operational.

The union said ferry workers and their supporters have spent the last few days talking to ferry users and other community members about their job action, including issuing notices warning of the possibility of a three-day strike over the Labour Day long weekend.

"Our goal from the beginning of these negotiations has always been to get a collective agreement that these workers and ferry-reliant communities deserve," Smith explained.

"As the cost of living continues to rise employers should be doing everything they can to support services and preserve family-supporting jobs in B.C.'s small towns and rural areas, instead of prioritizing profit margins by suppressing wages, eroding benefits, and reducing funding for training, safety and career development."

Inland ferries were contracted out under the previous BC Liberal government.

As operating costs have increased, Western Pacific Marine has not maintained adequate training, wages and staffing levels.

As a result, the Kootenay Lake ferry has become heavily dependent on overtime, short-term hires from other regions and even contracting retired employees to maintain existing services. With this kind of instability, sailings are at risk of cancelation on a daily-basis.

The BCGEU said as per the Labour Relations Board ruling on essential services ferry crews on the picket line will be on standby to provide on-demand sailings of the Kootenay Lake ferry for emergency response and the ferries serving the communities of Harrop and Glade will remain 100 per cent operational. 

For full details on schedules and service levels of the inland ferries in the West Kootenays over the Labour Day weekend, visit ferries.bcgeu.ca

BCGEU members work on most of B.C.'s 13 inland ferry routes including Adams Lake, Arrow Park, Francois Lake, Glade, Harrop, Needles, Kootenay Lake and Upper Arrow Lake ferries.