Campbell River Minor Hockey Association urging end to strike that has rink closed

Campbell River Minor Hockey Association urging end to strike that has rink closed
WatchWorkers at Strathcona Gardens, a Regional District facility, have been without a contract since December 2020 and are now into week three of their job action. Dean Stoltz reports.

Around 500 members of the Campbell River Minor Hockey Association say they are caught in the middle of an ongoing labour dispute between the Strathcona Regional District and striking workers at Strathcona Gardens Recreation Complex.

“There’s a loss of revenues and our volunteers are stretched, parents, coaches, executives are trying to make things work and it’s very stressful,” said Neal Sekulich, equipment manager for the association.

Sekulich says teams are going to Comox, Courtenay, Parksville and Gold River as early as 6 a.m. for practices and at other times for games, often in dangerous winter driving conditions.

Future tournaments are also in doubt.

“Our U-18 Tyees program is hosting provincials in March and that’s a big deal. There are probably nine teams coming to town from across the province which is revenue for the area. It’s horrible for our kids. Some of those kids are in their last season and we get to host so we’re in the tournament,” added Sekulich.

Campbell River’s only two ice pads are at Strathcona Gardens. The facility is also home to the Campbell River Storm of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League which is currently playing home games in Gold River.

There is also a popular swimming pool and various fitness amenities at the complex.

Fifty-five workers at Strathcona Gardens have been without a contract for a year. Three weeks ago, rotating strikes turned into a full walkout and currently, the two sides are not negotiating.

“I’m feeling really disappointed with the state of affairs right now,” said Rhonda Barton, a lifeguard and fitness instructor who was on the picket line Thursday.

“Everybody is feeling ok, but they’re disappointed we can’t get a contract done. In my opinion, we’re not that far apart,” said maintenance worker Ray Stormo.

However, that seemingly depends on what side you talk to.

The United Steelworkers Union — which represents the workers — says it is asking for a 3.5 per cent wage increase in the first year followed by 2, 2, and 2.25 per cent.

“Or the cost of living whichever is greater so if the cost of living is zero, then we get two, we’re not asking for anything more than the two unless the economy dictates that and we are in an inflated economy right now,” said USW bargaining agent Shelley Siemens.

The union says some workers make $4 to $7 an hour less than counterparts in the Cowichan Valley and Port Alberni so it wants to bump those wages up by up to $1.50 an hour.

The union says the two sides aren’t far apart.

“So it’s only a percent-and-a-half difference in the first year, that’s what this is all about, then the next years we asked for what they wanted, two, two and 2.25,” added Siemens.

Over at the Regional District, the math sounds a lot different.

“It’s a range between 6 per cent and 13 per cent in the first year is what the union wants,” said Strathcona Regional District Chair David Leitch. “They’ve asked for 3.5 per cent and then a dollar an hour for all employees and that’s where I get the range,” he added. “A dollar an hour depending on your wage has different percentages to it.”

The SRD is calling for third-party binding arbitration and is accusing the union of not responding.

Siemens said, however, when the SRD issued a lock-out notice in late October followed by the current union strike action “it indicated that both sides are not interested in going to binding arbitration.”

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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