The Needles ferry station. Photo: Wikipedia

The Needles ferry station. Photo: Wikipedia

Waterbridge invites Arrow Lakes ferry workers’ union to talks

Will settlement come with new offer from company?

The union representing workers on the ferries on Arrow Lakes, Adams Lake and Francois Lake is going back to the bargaining table with the employer.

The union announced the two sides will resume bargaining on Tuesday after receiving an invitation from the ferries’ operators — WaterBridge Ferries and Waterbridge Equipment.

The union says it’s been told they’ll hear a new proposal on behalf of both companies that it says will address its concerns. The negotiations will take place in Kelowna.

“I think this is a good sign that these employers have heard our members’ concerns,” says Stephanie Smith, BCGEU president. “I’m hoping the new proposal puts the sustainability of the ferry service and the needs of our members and ferry-dependent communities ahead of profits. That would set a new bar for other operators of inland ferry routes.”

The company was contacted but did not immediately respond for a request to comment.

BCGEU inland ferry workers on routes operated by WaterBridge Ferries, Waterbridge Equipment and Western Pacific Marine, which operates ferry services on Kootenay Lake and the Kootenay River, have been without a contract since March. Negotiations broke down on June 5 when all three employers rejected the union’s proposal for industry standard compensation and investment in recruitment and succession planning.

The invitation to resume negotiations with Waterbridge Equipment and WaterBridge Ferries comes just as the labour board is expected to issue a ruling to set essential service levels for the Francois Lake, Adams Lake and Arrow Lake ferries in the event of job action. Essential service hearings began in September and ended last Wednesday.

While there’s movement in the Arrow Lakes dispute, the BCGEU says it has not received an invitation to resume bargaining from Western Pacific Marine, the company operating the Kootenay Lake, Glade and Harrop ferries.

After an essential services ruling was issued in that dispute, ferry service has been disrupted almost daily for the last two weeks on Kootenay Lake.

All three employers maintain service contracts with the Ministry of Transportation.

The union says as operating costs have increased, the employers have failed to retain workers with industry standard compensation. They say they’re also fighting for better successorship and training to ensure safety requirements are met and local knowledge of the lakes is passed down to younger workers.