The strike at the MV Nicola has entered its third week, with no sign of it ending anytime soon due to claims by the union that ferry workers are owed wages for straight-time and overtime work.
On January 7, five ferry workers on the Nicola (a.k.a. Spirit of Lax Kw’alaams) served strike notice and set up a picket line at Aero Point in Seal Cove, where the Nicola docks in Prince Rupert before doing its regular run up to Port Simpson (Lax Kw’alaams) through Tuck Inlet.
Ken Lippett, the business manager for the Construction, Maintenance & Allied Workers Union Local 1735, said workers still have not seen a first agreement since they unionized last March. Workers are also asking for a 16 per cent raise over three years, and the band has countered with three per cent over three years.
But Lippett said negotiations on those issues won’t even take place until the workers find out when they will be getting paid for work they say they’re owed for.
“Workers get kind of cranky when they work and don’t get paid,” said Lippett. “They’re funny that way.”
But Wayne Drury, the band administrator at Port Simpson, said ferry employees have been paid for their work. “The issue about unpaid wages is a dead herring,” he said. “It’s not a red herring, it’s a dead herring.”
Drury said one employee was out one hour on his timesheet. He said another employee was out 45 hours, but that was because he was working under a different job classification the band wasn’t aware of. “It was an honest mistake,” said Drury, who added both workers will be reimbursed in the next pay period.
“Those folks have been paid for all of their hours,” added Drury.
Right now, said Lippett, the union is communicating to the band through its lawyer; there has been no attempt to sit down at the same table and hash anything out. Drury said he would like for the union to come back to the bargaining table to work out an agreement and get the ferry running again.
Lippett also alleged the band tried to hire replacement workers, or scabs, to drive the ferry from Rupert to Port Simpson. However, he said no one was willing to cross the picket line and drive the ferry.
On this point, Drury said the band council told administration to assemble a replacement crew, which he said is legal under the Canada Labour Code. He said the decision was a move to bring back an essential service to the community, not an attempt to break up the strike.
As an example of the strike’s effects, Drury said people are now forced to take a water taxi and walk up a gangplank laden with supplies, rather than simply drive their car from Rupert to Port Simpson via the ferry. He said it took him 20 minutes to bring his own bags from the bottom to the top of the docks last week in icy conditions, and said the task is much more difficult for the community’s elders.
“This isn’t just a mere convenience,” said Drury. “This is the community’s lifeline.”
~Written by Chris Armstrong