Unionized employees of the Halifax Shipyard voted Sunday afternoon to give their negotiating team a strike mandate.
About 800 of the union's members, ranging from electricians to metal fabricators, work at the shipyard and more than 700 members attended an off-site meeting in Halifax Sunday afternoon.
"After a healthy discussion, a strike vote was held, which resulted in a decisively strong mandate for the committee at more than 99 per cent," Unifor said in a message to members posted online.
The current collective agreement between Unifor Marine Workers Local 1 and the Halifax Shipyard expires at the end of the month.
Irving employees are in the middle of constructing Arctic and offshore patrol vessels. A large centre section of the first one, HMCS Harry DeWolf, is now visible outside the massive assembly hall on the Halifax waterfront.
Formal bargaining started a month ago and the two sides say they've spent four days at the table so far.
Sean Lewis, Irving Shipbuilding's director of communications, said the two sides are still working on scheduling talks with a conciliator. The province appointed one after the company's Nov. 23 request, he said.
No one from the union was available Sunday to comment on the strike vote.
Unifor's statement said it the bargaining committee "will not be speaking publicly or bargaining in the media."
Based on releases issued by the employer, and a response from the union, it appears the two sides don't see eye to eye on issues including work breaks, seniority and paid sick time.
Irvings says it offered 2 proposals
In a public statement on Nov. 23, the Halifax Shipyard said it had offered the union two proposals.
"We are disappointed that we were unable to move bargaining forward through mutual discussions. We are hopeful that an outside party can assist in restarting negotiations, as we believe a negotiated agreement is the best option for the Halifax Shipyard and our shipbuilders," it said.
In a later statement, Irving said it wants to combine the morning break with the lunch period, paying employees for the extra 10 minutes at lunch.
Break time, sick leave, seniority discussed
Prior to Sunday's meeting, Unifor's bargaining team told employees that the company's first proposal was "33 pages of major concessions" from the union, including getting rid of seniority, break periods and "most safety provisions."
The union's statement said it was asking for four sick days a year "for unforeseen illness.
"Their proposals do not reflect improved or modernized working conditions, as the removed of breaks and safety provisions are not improvements," it said.
In 2010, Irving won the contract to build between six and eight of the Arctic and offshore patrol vessels for $2.3 billion and 15 warships for $26 billion.
There have been delays with construction and Irving is now planning to build five or six patrol vessels. The shipyard is supposed to finish the first ship in 2018. The last one is expected to be complete in 2022.