The mayor of Nakusp led a delegation to Vancouver recently to ensure the village isn’t hurt by a possible strike by local ferry workers.
Tom Zeleznik and business leaders lobbied provincial officials to secure an agreement that the dispute between the union and ferry management won’t affect service.
“Our Arrow Lakes ferries must continue as an essential service and a marine free-highway that keeps our economy moving,” says Zeleznik.
The contract between Nakusp’s Waterbridge Ferries and workers on the Needles, Galena Bay, and Arrow Park ferries expired at the end of March
The BC Government and Service Employees’ Union represents about 115 workers on the three Arrow Lakes ferries as well as the Adams Lake ferry in the Shuswap.
The company asked the public to support them in pushing the Labour Relations Board to declare the runs essential.
Waterbridge President John Harding issued a news release in August asking for public comment on the level of service that unionized workers should provide in the event of job action.
The mayor and local leaders went to deliver that message to the LRB.
The ferries “play an active role in helping drive our local economy,” the mayor told the board, which can set mandatory service levels during labour disputes.
The ferries do that by “bringing thousands of workers to work, students to school, tourists to their destination and goods to market, including essential services to local communities.”
The Nakusp delegation listed a number of services threatened by any labour disruption, including schools, people travelling for medical care, forestry, mechanical parts delivery, food and fuel delivery, and people travelling for work or pleasure.
“My company, that is forestry related, will also be affected, having to lay off employees that need to cross both vessels every morning and evening,” he says in his notes.
Zeleznik says he felt the community’s concerns were heard.
“I believe we were. We’re not mad at anybody, we’re just trying to protect our community with this essential service,” he says.
“Everyone has the right to strike. We don’t want to get in the middle, we just wanted to state our voice because for us in Nakusp and area it’s an essential service.”
No word on strike action
There’s no indication from the union that they plan any job action on the affected ferries — the three on the Arrow Lakes, and one at Adams Lake — in the immediate future.
In a vote taken between Aug. 16 and 19, ferry workers voted 93 per cent in favour of a strike, while the division representing equipment workers was 80 per cent in favour.
The BCGEU says the main issues are competitive wages, better benefits, and a comprehensive plan to invest in the company’s future to provide more employment opportunities.
Travellers in another part of the West Kootenay are already seeing service disruptions because of a related labour dispute.
BCGEU workers on the Kootenay Lake ferry walked off the job on the Labour Day weekend, and again last weekend for just under 24 hours. Two other ferries from the same union local were declared essential services by the LRB. Those communities — Harrop, Procter, and Glade — are only accessible by ferry.
There’s no word on when the Labour Relations Board will set the level of services for the local ferry runs.