October 3, 2019
BCGEU members working on the Kootenay Lake ferry will support a community rally to raise awareness for the unsustainability of the inland ferry service.
The "Unity Sailing & Rally" will take place on Friday, October 4 at 3 p.m. at the Kootenay Bay ferry landing. The organizers' goal, according to a media release posted on Facebook, is to "take a stand for a safe, reliable, sustainable ferry service over the long-term" by gathering ferry users to cross the lake together. Ferry workers will accommodate the rally by providing additional sailings as needed to ensure all rally participants are able to return home.
"I can't overstate how much our members appreciate this show of solidarity from the community," says Stephanie Smith, president of the BC Government and Service Employees' Union, the union representing the ferry workers. "Our goal is the same as it has always been-to get a fair collective agreement with the employer that addresses the long term sustainability of the ferry service. It's really gratifying to have the community supporting us. Together we can bring the employer back to the bargaining table."
Ferry workers implemented a restriction on overtime on September 16th to highlight the chronic staffing issues putting the service in crisis. Since then up to 70 per cent of regular sailings per day have been unable to run, negatively impacting ferry users. Community members have spoken out about the impacts by submitting letters to Western Pacific Marine through the BCGEU's website, ferries.bcgeu.ca, as well as by organizing OurFerryMatters.ca, the grassroots group organizing Friday's rally.
"The employer has spent years making profit their priority, refusing to invest in their workforce, and ultimately creating the current crisis where there is a lack of local, qualified staff to operate the Kootenay Lake ferry," says Smith. "That means the ferry is heavily reliant on extreme amounts of overtime and is at high risk of regular cancellations. Our members have had enough. And we're hearing the same from the community."
"Our members live in ferry dependent communities so they understand how their job action is affecting the daily lives of their friends, families and neighbours," says Smith. "This rally shows that the community understands why our job action is necessary so we want to say thank you by making sure all the participants can get home."
Ferry workers have been without a contract since March 2019. Negotiations ceased on June 5th when the employer, Western Pacific Marine, would not consider the union's proposal for industry standard compensation. Despite the restriction on overtime, ferry crews are committed to delivering the three essential service crossings on weekdays as ordered by the Labour Relations Board.
The BCGEU is one of the largest unions in B.C. with over 79,000 members in almost every community and economic sector in the province.