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Union files unfair labour practice complaint against BC Ferries amid ‘tense’ negotiations

With just days to go before the busy holiday travel season, a bitter labour dispute between BC Ferries and its union has spilled into public view.

The BC Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union has filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the BC Labour Relations Board, accusing the employer of bargaining directly with members and defaming union leadership.

“(We’re) also seeking to address the impact of that communication language and the challenges that’s created within the union and the membership,” union president Eric McNeely told Global News.

“Right now is a uniquely tense time.”

The 14-page complaint alleges BC Ferries undertook a “concerted campaign” to undermine the union’s bargaining power and reputation with its members.

It claims the company bargained directly with a faction of union membership, providing them with benefits in the form of housing in remote communities that wasn’t covered by their collective agreement, and without the union’s awareness.

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It claims that when the union challenged that action, the company withdrew the benefit and blamed union leadership. It further claims the company ended negotiations over a mid-contract wage increase and similarly blamed union leadership for workers not getting a pre-Christmas raise.

“The Employer misrepresented the negotiations that occurred between the parties and cast the Union as callous and uninterested in its members’ interests, stoking anger, fear, and frustration in the Union’s members and pitting them against the Union and each other,” the complaint alleges.

The union is demanding the company stop its communication with members, and is seeking both a declaration of wrongdoing and $2.1 million in damages.

“When that leads to members considering whether or not a union is representing their best interferes, that is a real challenge for the relationship between the employer and the union, and not one we take lightly,” McNeely said.

BC Ferries CEO Nicolas Jimenez maintained the company had not gone offside in its communications with workers.

“The conversations we have had have all been within the bounds of what we are allowed to based on the protocol agreement we have, and all we are doing is what we should have been doing all along, which is talking to people about something that matters deeply to them, and that’s obviously their paycheque,” he said.

“So we will keep doin that in ways that respect the rules that are laid out in the arbitration process.”

Global News has learned the company and union had worked out most of the terms of a new deal, but the process has been delayed because one of the arbitrators involved has been ill.

McNeely said he had reached out to Jimenez offering to meet face to face to try and hammer out an agreement ahead of the holiday, but had not heard back.

Jimenez said he’s always willing to meet with members of the union executive to talk, but not on matters that are currently before an arbitration or tribunal hearing.

“I am committed to resetting the relationship,” he said.  “The problems we have at this company are too big to not have a productive, effective working relationship.”

Jimenez said he expected an arbitrator to “deliver an increase in compensation” for workers in the new year which is “rightly deserved.”

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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