Irving offers shipbuilders $73K a year, but union says strike threat not about money
'It's about respect for the workforce and treating people fairly,' says union rep
"It's about respect for the workforce and treating people fairly," said Chad Johnston, a national representative of Unifor.
Johnston held a news conference Thursday afternoon alongside two local union leaders. He said good pay does not allow the employer "to use poor treatment."
The union recommended that workers accept the deal, but they voted against it.
The workplace disruption comes as Irving delivers on its multi-billion dollar contract to build ships for the Canadian government. In 2015, Irving Shipbuilding signed a contract with the federal government to build six Arctic offshore patrol ships.
Irving will also build 15 Canadian surface combatant ships over the next 25 years. The overall project is worth billions of dollars.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said it's "way too early" for the federal government to think about intervening in the dispute.
"I think everybody knows how important the national shipbuilding strategy is, not just for the Canadian Armed Forces but also for jobs for Canada," he told reporters in Ottawa.
Locals should get jobs
He said the single biggest issue workers had was with subcontractors in the shipyard.
David Baker-Mosher, president of Unifor Local MWF1, said union workers also object to temporary foreign workers in the yard. "The temporary foreign workers have created huge animosity," he said.
Too many temporary foreign workers
Johnston said temporary foreign workers make up a dozen or so of the workforce at Irving.
"For the McNeil government to open the doors to the world to come in and take these jobs, we were dead set against that in the beginning," Johnston said.
Irving hopes union will reconsider deal
Irving Shipbuilding wouldn't speak to the media Thursday, but issued a statement from president Kevin McCoy. He said the rejected deal was fair for the company, the workers and the union.
McCoy said journeyperson shipbuilders at Irving currently make $34.80 an hour, or about $72,000 a year. The new deal would have raised that to $35.32 an hour, or $73,450 a year.
"We must remain competitive and provide good value for the Royal Canadian Navy who relies on us to efficiently build, maintain, and modernize their ships," he said.
McCoy said Irving has spent $400 million over the last few years to create a clean, safe and efficient workplace.