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Op/Ed: BCGEU ferry workers want back to the bargaining table for a sustainable service

With 100 years of experience fighting for our members’ rights in all types of workplaces, the BCGEU knows that the best way to achieve fair and sustainable collective agreements is at the bargaining table.

The latest statement from Western Pacific Marine (WPM) is a perfect example of something the BCGEU does not do — bargaining through the media.

Our members’ objective in their dispute with WPM has never changed — they are fighting for a collective agreement that will sustain the inland ferry service for the future. To achieve that, the employer needs to make the necessary investments in their labour force to address the recruitment and retention issues that are already jeopardizing the service levels that ferry users rely on.

In fact, WPM’s statement backs up our members’ position. By pointing out the service disruptions Kootenay Lake Ferry users are currently experiencing, WPM is highlighting the impact of their chronic under-resourcing of the service — there are not enough qualified staff to run the ferries so when our members refuse to sacrifice their mental and physical health by working excessive amounts of overtime, the ferries don’t run. That is exactly the point our members have been making throughout the bargaining process.

It’s important to remember that WPM is not the only inland ferry operator the BCGEU is bargaining with but they are the only employer that is currently refusing to sit down with our members. This past week WaterBridge Ferries and Waterbridge Equipment invited our bargaining committees back to the table and presented new proposals. Significant moves were made on both sides and we’re awaiting a response to our counter proposal. I’m hopeful that the employers will address our members’ concerns and set a new standard in the inland ferry service.

If Waterbridge’s efforts aren’t enough to demonstrate that our proposal for industry standard wages and training is possible, then the government’s own statement should. Local MLA and Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Michelle Mungall confirmed in a Facebook statement this week that, while the government funds annual salary increases in its contract with the employer, WPM is not restricted from adjusting their budget to meet collective agreement changes.

I’m hopeful that WPM will reconsider this attempt at bargaining in the media, follow the example set by Waterbridge Ferries and Waterbridge Equipment, and get back to the table.

Stephanie Smith
BCGEU president