Public opinion is being courted in a dispute between an Okanagan taxi company and the union representing the employees.
The dispute between Kelowna Cabs and union MoveUP began on Feb. 26, with the union claiming the company locked out its taxi dispatchers and call takers.
The union also alleges those employees have been without a contract since May 2019.
This week, MoveUP launched an online petition seeking public support. The petition, which had just over 500 signatures as of Friday afternoon, can be seen here.
“For clarity, the union members did not go on strike nor have they taken a strike vote,” MoveUP said in a press release. “It was the employer’s unilateral decision to lock its employees out.
“The employer can choose to end the lockout at any time and let their employees back in. The petition asks the help of the community to put pressure on Kelowna Cabs to end their lockout.”
A small solidarity rally was held on Feb. 26. The rally followed a 72-hour notice that was issued by the company earlier that month.
“The employer has been telling the public that our members are on strike rather than being locked out which is a bald-faced lie,” said Christy Slusarenko, MoveUP vice-president.
“They have also been telling the public they have no plans to use an overseas call centre.
“If what Kelowna Cabs is saying is true, then our members would already be at work with a new collective agreement because this issue of outsourcing was the last major hurdle we had during bargaining.
“We will not accept any proposal that involves outsourcing our members’ work to an overseas call centre. If that’s no longer an issue, then we can have a deal done today.”
Kelowna Cabs disputed MoveUP’s claims, saying the real issue is the union, not the employees.
Andy Sandhu, chairman and shareholder with Kelowna Cabs, says the company’s labour force has shrunk from around 17 a few years ago to a half dozen, and that technology and ridesharing are changing the taxi landscape.
“I have no problem with a petition, if it’s online or on a piece of paper,” Sandhu told Global News. “We’ve been serving this community since 1981 and the public in Kelowna knows what kind of service we provide.
“The petition, which I think is by union leadership in Vancouver, is to put pressure on Kelowna Cabs and maybe we’ll cave in and (accept) their unreasonable demands. I don’t think that will work.”
Sandhu added “all the employees are happy with us. MoveUP, the union leadership, wants to keep pressure on these employees. I don’t know why.”
He also stated Kelowna Cabs has been bargaining in good faith since 1999, saying the past six contract negotiations went well.
“We’ve been negotiating since 2019,” said Sandhu. “Since the pandemic, they didn’t want to come to Kelowna; they wanted to do a Zoom meeting.
“But when they were locked out, seven of them came in one day.
“So I think they just need a place for holidays to come to Kelowna, and if they don’t have these five employees, they may not have a chance to have holidays (in Kelowna). Maybe that’s the pressure they want.”