British Columbia

Strike-struck B.C.: How job action affected the province in 2019

From striking university faculty to loggers to support staff at schools, thousands of British Columbians walked off the job in 2019.

From loggers to university workers, B.C. saw several major labour disputes this year

Employees have horns, drums, megaphones, speakers and plastic buckets to make noise as part of their picketing since walking off the job on Sept. 19, according to lawsuits filed on behalf of three downtown Vancouver hotels. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

From striking university faculty to loggers to support staff at schools, thousands of British Columbians walked off the job in 2019.

While the reason why so many labour disputes took place this year is largely an issue of timing — a number of contracts were up for negotiation simultaneously — a common theme underlying many of the strikes is frustration wages have not kept up with the cost of living

Here's a round-up of major job action that happened — and in some cases is ongoing — across the province, with details on each dispute below:

 

Employees at Western Forest Products

Striking Western Forest Products, Inc. workers and supporters of the United Steelworkers Union rally in Nanaimo, B.C. — where the company is based — on Nov. 6, 2019. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Status: Strike ongoing since July 1. Negotiations broke down again Dec. 18.

Who: Around 3,000 coastal forest workers, represented by the United Steelworkers Union, are striking against Western Forest Products Inc. 

Why: The union says it wants a four-year deal with wage increases of three per cent in the first two years and 2.5 per cent in the last two.

Action: Workers have been without pay since the summer, and the company's shares have taken a hit on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

University of Northern B.C. faculty (resolved)

Faculty at the University of Northern British Columbia stand on the picket line along University Way in Prince George, B.C., on Thursday. Staff are on strike after bargaining over wages failed over the past several months. (Catherine Hansen/CBC)

Status: Both the faculty association and the university have agreed to binding final-offer-selection arbitration on the issue of salaries. The strike lasted from Nov. 7 to Dec. 18.

Who: 180 professors and other faculty staff, represented by the University of Northern British Columbia Faculty Association, are striking against their employer, the University of Northern British Columbia. 

Why:  The group wants a new salary structure and higher wages, but there are also conflicts around the tenure and promotions process and disciplinary measures. 

Action: Classes were cancelled for three weeks in November. The university says it will offer a non-refundable financial credit to affected students. Staff returned to class at the end of November but only to do work that would allow students to complete the fall semester.

Kootenay Lake ferry workers (resolved)

The grassroots community group, called Our Ferry Matters, says the Kootenay Lake ferry is an essential travel route for their region. (Submitted by Our Ferry Matters)

Status: Resolved. The strike ran Sept. 1-Dec. 1. The ferry workers agreed to a new five-year contract. 

Who: 80 ferry workers represented by the B.C. Government and Service Employers' Union were striking against their employer, Western Pacific Marine Ltd. The Kootenay Lake ferry runs between Balfour and a terminal near Crawford Bay, and is an important route for locals and the tourism industry. 

Why: The conflict surrounded overtime and wages. 

Action: Since the ferry is deemed an essential service, workers reduced sailings but did not eliminate them altogether. The BCGEU estimates up to 70 per cent of regular sailings per day were unable to run.

Legal aid staff lawyers

Legal aid staff lawyers strike on Nov. 1 in downtown Vancouver. (@peainbc/Instagram)

Status: Strike ongoing since Nov. 1. 

Who: 26 staff lawyers with the Legal Services Society, represented by the Professional Employees Association (PEA), are striking against the B.C. government. 

Why: The union says staff lawyers earn less than Crown counsel or independently contracted legal aid lawyers. 

Action: Staff staged a one-day walkout on Nov. 1. Since Nov. 22, staff are only completing essential client and case work. According to the PEA, staff will no longer perform administrative duties like responding to emails from management or attending staff meetings.

Telecommunications technicians at Ledcor

Status: Strike ongoing since Sept. 30.

Who: Dozens of telecommunications technicians, represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 213, working at Ledcor.

Why: Regular cuts in pay, extended work hours, unjust firings and deteriorating working conditions were cited as reasons for the strike. Month of bargaining have been unsuccessful and workers took up picketing after 31 staffers were fired in September.

Action: The union served strike notice on Sept. 25. Workers walked off the job and began picketing outside the Ledcor office in Port Coquitlam on Sept. 30. 

Metro Vancouver transit workers (resolved)

Gavin McGarrigle of Unifor announces job action strike for bus workers in New Westminster, British Columbia on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Status: Resolved. The job action ran Nov. 1-26. 

Who: 5,000 workers represented by Unifor Locals 111 and 2200 were striking against TransLink's Coast Mountain Bus Company.

Why: Wages and working conditions were the main sticking points. Unifor said the salaries of their employees have not been comparable to salaries in other major cities

Action: Starting Nov. 1, there were cuts to SeaBus service and workers refused to work overtime on a rotating basis. A full bus and SeaBus shutdown was planned for Nov. 27-29, which would have affected up to 350,000 customers, but that was averted with a tentative deal reached shortly after midnight Nov. 27.

SkyTrain workers (resolved)

Status: Resolved before a planned three-day SkyTrain shutdown was scheduled to take place. 

Who: 900 SkyTrain workers represented by CUPE 7000 and the B.C. Rapid Transit Company.

Why: The major issues of contention included wages, overtime and sick leave.

Action: A shutdown of SkyTrain services was narrowly avoided after a tentative deal was reached with minutes to spare. TransLink said service on the Expo and Millennium lines saw an hour of delays first thing in the morning on Dec. 10 as the system booted up for the day, but the trains were soon operating normally.

Saanich school support workers (resolved)

Peal Duerksen and Marie Josee Rodrique, both education assistants, walk the picket line at Brentwood Bay Elementary on Oct. 28, 2019. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

Status: Resolved. The strike ran Oct. 28-Nov. 16.

Who: 500 support staff workers represented by CUPE Local 441 were striking against the Saanich School District. 

Why: The union argued its members pay was significantly lower than neighbouring school districts like Greater Victoria. 

Action: Schools in the Saanich School District were closed during the strike; students will make up lost instructional time via changes to their schedule. 

Downtown Vancouver hotel workers (resolved)

Hotel workers picket at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver on Oct. 8, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Status: Resolved. The strike action ran Sept. 19-Oct. 17 at the Hyatt Regency, Westin Bayshore, and Pinnacle Harbourfront; and Sept. 19-Nov. 18 at the Hotel Georgia. 

Who: 1,200 hotel workers from the Hotel Georgia, Hyatt Regency, Westin Bayshore, and Pinnacle Harbourfront represented by Unite Here Local 40. 

Why: Workers agreed to a new deal that will see raises of up to 25 per cent, and new standards for workplace safety, sexual harassment and job security.

Action: Striking workers picketed daily up and down the sidewalk outside the hotels' entrance. The Hyatt Regency, Westin Bayshore and Pinnacle Hotels all launched lawsuits against the workers citing "deafening noise."

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