BC Ferries workers’ union says company’s actions led to ‘discord’ with members

BC Ferries workers' union says company's actions led to 'discord' with members
Photo credit: Nicholas Pescod

The union representing BC Ferries workers has issued a complaint against BC Ferries Services Inc. and is seeking $2.1 million in monetary damages from the company, alleging its “efforts have stoked fear and animosity among members.”

BC Ferries Services has “undertaken a concerted campaign to undermine the Union’s exclusive bargaining agency and lower its reputation amongst its members,” according to the BC Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union.

The union, in a 14-page complaint document dated Dec. 14, also says the employer’s efforts have created fear and hostility among members, “which has directly led to discord between the Union and its members.

“Subsequent to the Employer’s actions, members have been openly discussing the removal of or change of bargaining representatives,” reads the document.

For more than a year, BC Ferries bargained directly with “a fraction of the Union’s members and without the Union’s awareness,” according to the union. 

It says the employer was providing members with “substantial benefits not contained in the Collective Agreement,” including housing and accommodation in remote communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This created “divisions and rivalries…among the Union’s members, and resentment toward the Union,” it says in the document.

At the same time, the parties were engaged in mid-contract wage negotiations, and the employer ended negotiations with “its best and final offer,” then told the union’s members that “the union was the reason employees were not getting wage increases before the winter holidays,” the union says.

It represents about 4,700 regular and casual unionized employees, as well as 100 or so seasonal employees hired during peak demand periods.

“The Employer further divulged confidential discussions to Union members in an attempt to further foment distrust against the Union,” according to the union, which adds that these actions persuaded “the members that the Union is responsible for the cessation of non-bargained benefits and the absence of wage increases.”

So the union wants BC Ferries to pay $100,000 in damages for bargaining directly with employees, among other “relief and remedies” listed here.

It also wants $1 million in damages for defamation and $1 million for the damage caused to the relationship between the union and members.

Prior to COVID-19, the union had a mandate to advance a bargaining proposal for a two-year collective agreement with 10 per cent wage increases for both years, among other “special wage adjustments,” the union says.

But these aspirations “quickly fell off the Union’s proposals as they were bargaining in the height of the economic shutdowns,” it says.

It says that since 2003, “the standard of living for BC Ferries employees has been slowly eroding and has dropped to crisis levels through COVID.”

It was on Oct. 31, 2020, when the union signed a tentative agreement for zero, two and two per cent, and two wage reopeners, and due to labour shortages at BC Ferries and inflation, the start of the wage reopener was postponed to Aug. 1, 2023.

No agreements were reached, however.

The union says BC Ferries then wrongfully notified employees, without the union’s permission, that it had proposed a seven per cent general wage increase but no deal was reached.

That was around the time the union met with BC Ferries’ Dean Dobrinsky and Cameron Brine via video call, and Dobrinsky, the company’s executive director of labour relations, allegedly screamed “Just shut the f–k up” into the camera.

Arbitration resumes in February

The union and BC Ferries are currently in the middle of an arbitration process, which the latter says will determine wage adjustments for 2024.

“We are looking forward to a good outcome for our people and having this process complete in the New Year when the arbitrator panel makes its ruling,” said BC Ferries in a statement to CHEK News Monday.

It says that while it’s aware of the workers’ union complaint and will be responding to it, “there is a limitation to what we can say right now as the matter is now before the Labour Relations Board.”

It also says it “honours the agreement it has with the BC Ferry & Marine Workers’ Union about respectful communication toward and about each other in the media and in other public forums.”

Nicolas Jimenez, BC Ferries’ president and CEO, says the company’s goal through the bargaining process is to deliver “a good outcome” for its workers. He adds that management recognizes the hard work the workers do day after day.

“We’re looking forward to the arbitration panel’s decision in the new year and expect it’ll deliver wage improvements that reflect how important our people are to BC Ferries,” added Jimenez in a statement.

The full complaint document is here.

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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