On Tuesday, October 8, members of the BC Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) working on the Francois Lake, Arrow Lake and Adams Lake ferries will resume bargaining with the ferries' operators-WaterBridge Ferries and Waterbridge Equipment.
The entity that owns both WaterBridge Ferries and Waterbridge Equipment has invited the union back to the bargaining table to present a proposal on behalf of both companies that it says will address the union's concerns. The negotiations will take place in Kelowna.
"I think this is a good sign that these employers have heard our members' concerns," says Stephanie Smith, BCGEU president. "I'm hoping the new proposal puts the sustainability of the ferry service and the needs of our members and ferry-dependent communities ahead of profits. That would set a new bar for other operators of inland ferry routes."
BCGEU inland ferry workers on routes operated by WaterBridge Ferries, Waterbridge Equipment and Western Pacific Marine have been without a contract since March 2019. Negotiations broke down on June 5 when all three employers rejected the union's proposal for industry standard compensation and investment in recruitment and succession planning.
"Our members' objective hasn't changed throughout this process. They want a collective agreement that ensures the long term sustainability of the ferry service through investments in the workforce," says Smith. "They have never wavered from that, and their solidarity is strong."
The invitation to resume negotiations with Waterbridge Equipment and WaterBridge Ferries comes just as the labour board is expected to issue a ruling to set essential service levels for the Francois Lake, Adams Lake and Arrow Lake ferries in the event of job action. Essential service hearings began in September and ended late Wednesday, October 2.
The BCGEU has not received an invitation to resume bargaining from Western Pacific Marine (WPM), which operates the ferries on Kootenay Lake. As with Waterbridge, the union seeks to establish a collective agreement through bargaining and not arbitration or mediation.
All three employers maintain service contracts with the Ministry of Transportation. The inland ferry services were initially contracted out under the previous BC Liberal government. As operating costs have increased, the employers have failed to retain workers with industry standard compensation and adhere to guidelines around successorship and training that would ensure safety requirements are met and local knowledge of the lakes are passed down.
The BCGEU is one of the largest and fastest growing unions in B.C. with more than 79,000 members working in almost every community and economic sector in the province.