As of 3:30 p.m. this afternoon, five workers on the MV Nicola, the ferry that runs between Prince Rupert & Lax Kw’alaams through Tuck Inlet, went on strike.
The ferry, operated by the Lax Kw’alaams band, is now parked in its regular spot at Aero Point in Seal Cove. The last run up Tuck Inlet was this morning. A picket line has been set up outside Aero Point.
Ken Lippett, the business manager with Construction, Maintenance & Allied Workers Local 1735, said the Lax Kw’alaams band had offered a raise of one per cent per year over three years, which he said isn’t enough. “These employees are paid far below scale for this coast,” he said, adding that the equivalent B.C. Ferries job pays about $9 to $12 more per hour.
But Lippett said wages are a side-issue compared to the main concern: that a first agreement has not yet been signed. The five workers applied for union certification in December 2009, he said, and were granted unionized status in March 2010. Bargaining started in May, but talks fell apart in June, said Lippett. Between now and then, no first bargaining agreement has yet been signed, he said.
Lippett said the union and the band were in negotiations with a conciliator with the Federal Labour Board up until December 10. A strike vote was held on December 11, he said, but workers could not legally declare a strike until a 21-day cooling-off period had transpired. On January 4, the workers gave a 72-hour strike notice.
Lippett said workers are also concerned about unpaid overtime, as well as being “married to the job” while working a split shift between the morning and afternoon runs to Lax Kw’alaams.
No one at the Lax Kw’alaams Band Office was immediately available for comment. But in a news release posted on December 31 on its website, the band said the union is demanding too much of a wage increase, even after it was offered a pension and health plan.
The release also states the band doesn’t receive independent funding for the ferry, so money from other band programs must be spent on running the Nicola. “Last year, that amounted to more than $145,000 being spent on the ferry rather than such programs as education, social assistance and the Christmas gift program,” states the press release. (Available here.)
The press release also states the offer made to the union “balances the desires of the ferry crew with the larger community interest in maintaining funding for other Band programs and avoiding higher ferry fares.”
Lippett said a picket line will be going up around the Nicola at 3:30 p.m. today.
The Nicola is also known as the Spirit of Lax Kw’alaams. Its capacity is 16 vehicles and 133 passengers. The upgrades to the ferry dock at Aero Point were completed in the spring of 2010.
~Written by Chris Armstrong