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Union for BC Ferries workers wants to secure wage hike as competition heats up

Click to play video: 'BC Ferries, union reopen negotiations over wages'
BC Ferries, union reopen negotiations over wages
BC Ferries has struggled in recent years to prevent its employees from jumping ship, with every week seemingly bringing another cancellation due to staff shortages. But as Global's Travis Prasad reports, a new development between the company and its union could keep workers on board. – Jul 24, 2023

The union representing some BC Ferries workers wants to reopen their collective agreement and secure a wage hike, warning that staff could quit — possibly contributing to cancellations — if that doesn’t happen.

Erin McNeely, president of the BC Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union, said he certainly hopes it doesn’t come to that. Closing the wage gap with competing companies, however, could increase service “stability” at BC Ferries, he said.

BC Ferries declined an interview request for this story, stating it doesn’t comment on negotiations in the press.

Unionized staff are in the middle of a five-year contract with BC Ferries that includes a pair of two-per-cent increases and the option to reopen wage talks in April 2024. Both parties, however, have agreed to open them early — starting Aug. 1, according to McNeely.

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“That’s good news for our membership, hopefully good news for the travelling public,” he told Global News.

Click to play video: 'Hullo passenger-only ferry arrive ahead of August launch'
Hullo passenger-only ferry arrive ahead of August launch

In a recent survey of more than 4,000 members, the union found more than 50 per cent had taken on second jobs just to make ends meet.

“A lot of them have been sort of pinning their hopes on these wage re-openers to address disparity, and people are saying, look, if substantial change isn’t brought forward they are going to have to consider whether those secondary jobs they have – should be their primary jobs,” McNeely said.

According to the union president, deck hands at BC Ferries make about 25 per cent less than those at North Vancouver-based Seaspan, with captains earning up to 40 per cent less than they would at some competitors.

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“We’ve had people who have been wooed away to work for organizations you don’t really think of as competing with BC Ferries,” he explained, adding that some terminal supervisors have said they can make more money at Starbucks.

Click to play video: 'BC Ferries CEO reacts to long weekend travel woes'
BC Ferries CEO reacts to long weekend travel woes

The comments come as Hullo Ferries prepares to launch its service between Vancouver and Nanaimo next month. Its two new, passenger-only ferries arrived at the Nanaimo Port Authority’s Assembly Wharf last week.

The competitor is offering sailings between the two cities four times daily to start, with more to be added.

McNeely said some of his members have already migrated there, “because in part Hullo is providing a good compensation package and career advancement supports.” It’s unusual, he added, for BC Ferries staff to leave for a startup.

Click to play video: 'More ‘hurry up and wait’ at BC Ferries terminals Monday'
More ‘hurry up and wait’ at BC Ferries terminals Monday

Between April and June, some 274 BC Ferries sailings were cancelled as a result of crew shortages, accounting for fewer than one per cent of the trips in that timeframe. In a previous interview, BC Ferries’ Deborah Marshal said the company has hired more than 1,200 people for the fleet this summer, but lacks some “resiliency” when it comes to having backup staff available.

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“The frequency of those interruptions have been increasing over the past few years especially since COVID, and I think it’s an indication of why BC Ferries might be looking to have this conversation,” Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen told Global News.

“They say it’s less than one per cent of sailings that are cancelled, but if that’s the sailing you’re going on and it’s cancelled, you’re kind of out of luck,” added Diana Mumford of the Southern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee.

On June 28, BC Ferries revealed its Coastal Celebration vessel would undergo an “unplanned” and “extended refit,” requiring it to reassign more than 6,600 bookings between June 28 and July 3. It returned to service briefly, but has since returned to drydock in need of additional repairs, resulting in additional cancellations.

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