Unionized Victoria shipyard employees vote for possible strike action

Unionized Victoria shipyard employees vote for possible strike action
The Seaspan Victoria Shipyards are seen in this file photo.

Unionized workers at Seaspan’s Victoria shipyard are one step closer to walking off the job after overwhelmingly voting in favour of possible strike action at a meeting Thursday night.

According to chief negotiator and Boilermakers Lodge 191 spokesman Robert Taylor, 98 per cent of members who work at the shipyard voted in favour of a strike mandate.

Taylor says the vote sends a strong message to Seaspan, which operates at the Esquimalt graving dock. Seaspan was notified of the vote Friday morning, and workers are now waiting to hear back from the employer on whether it will provide a counter-offer.

If Seaspan doesn’t come back to the table, a strike impacting up to 1,400 shipyard workers from several unions including sheet metal workers and electricians may be the next step, he said.

“This is the very first time that we’ve ever been in this position,” said Taylor. “Nobody wants to [strike], everybody loses when you have to.”

At issue are proposed changes to the workers’ existing collective agreement, which Taylor said has been in place for 27 years, that would include the removal of a break and changes to shift lengths and weekly schedule.

“I know this is going to get worse before it gets better, but we’re supposed to be business partners,” he said. “We supply labour, they get the work. We need to have a good relationship.”

Seaspan Shipyards issued a statement Friday saying that it will continue to bargain with the union toward a new collective agreement.

“These negotiations include the engagement of a mediator from the British Columbia Labour Relations Board to work through remaining issues and reach a settlement,” the company said.

“We understand that the union membership has approved a strike mandate, and the union bargaining committee will provide a 72-hour notice prior to any strike activity. We have not yet received that notice.”

Taylor said he remains hopeful that the two sides can get a deal done before it comes down to a strike, which could begin as early as next week.

“With 98 per cent approved, that sends a pretty strong message to the employer. We’re hoping that brings them back to the bargaining table,” he said.

Jeff LawrenceJeff Lawrence

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