The communities of Kootenay Lake are no longer facing disruptions to their ferry service due to the labour dispute between BC Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) ferry workers and their employer, Western Pacific Marine. On November 26, after 13 days of intensive bargaining and more than five months after the negotiations reached an impasse, the two parties reached a tentative agreement.
"This bargaining process was hard work and this tentative agreement is fantastic news," said Stephanie Smith. "I'm proud of the solidarity shown by our members and the support of the community throughout this process. And I'm grateful that the employer was ultimately willing to get back to the table and get this deal done."
The tentative agreement includes provisions similar in principle to the collective agreement between the union and the other two inland ferries employers-WaterBridge Ferries and Waterbridge Equipment. That agreement was overwhelmingly ratified by union members in October. These provisions included wage parity with BC Ferries within the term of the agreement and a commitment to successorship training that will protect existing members.
BCGEU members will vote on the agreement this weekend. The union's bargaining committee is recommending ratification. If ratified, the WPM agreement will take effect immediately and expire on March 31, 2024.
"This tentative deal is a game changer," said Smith. "If our members vote to ratify it, they'll be voting for an agreement that could ensure the sustainability of the inland ferry system, and the families and communities that rely on it, for the foreseeable future."
Inland ferry workers on the Balfour, Harrop and Glade crossings have been without a contract since March 31, 2019. After negotiations broke down in June, the union initiated job action on WPM's Kootenay Lake route with a three-day work stoppage over the Labour Day long weekend followed by an overtime restriction as of September 18.
The communities of Glade and Harrop were unaffected by the union's job action due to an essential service ruling made August 29. When talks resumed on November 13, the union eased up on its job action – which had been resulting in up to 70 per cent of regular sailings being cancelled per day – ensuring all regularly scheduled sailings on Kootenay Lake while bargaining was ongoing.
Community support for reaching a collective agreement has been significant, including the website and Facebook group Our Ferry Matters, organized 'unity' sailings, and calls to all parties for a sustainable service.
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.