Protesters gathered outside the Terrace UNBC campus at 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 7, carrying signs reading ‘Good educators are priceless, not free’ and ‘On strike.’ (Brittany Gervais/Terrace Standard)

B.C. government grappling with multiple labour disputes by public-sector unions

Public-sector unions may have expectations of a labour-friendly NDP government

The British Columbia government faces a “difficult balancing act” in dealing with labour strife among public-sector unions representing bus drivers in Metro Vancouver, teachers around the province, support staff on Vancouver Island and faculty members at a university in the north, a labour expert says.

Tom Knight, an associate professor specializing in industrial relations and human resources at the University of British Columbia, said Premier John Horgan’s government will have to avoid the actions of its Liberal predecessors, who used legislation to force transit operators back to work in 2001 after a four-month strike.

He said public-sector unions may have expectations of a labour-friendly NDP government, which would have to tread carefully by appealing to unions as well as voters who would be affected by long work stoppages involving transit or education, or both.

“It would be their hope to avoid what the Liberals did,” Knight said.

The former government also stripped teachers of contract provisions in 2002, leading to years of acrimony between the two sides and a provincewide strike that had students out of school for five weeks in 2014.

A lengthy legal battle ended in 2016 when the Supreme Court of Canada restored the previous contract language allowing the teachers’ union to negotiate class size and the number of special-needs students in classrooms but the B.C. Teachers’ Federation says those provisions could now be rolled back.

Teachers have been without a contract since June and recently rejected a mediator’s report that recommended the union accept a three-year contract with an annual two-per-cent salary increase.

The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association says the top court also ruled parties have the right to negotiate class size and composition and school boards maintain the old language is out of date.

READ MORE: BCTF rejects mediator’s recommendations for settlement

Unifor, which represents transit workers embroiled in the current dispute, will return to the bargaining table on Wednesday. However, the union also announced job action would escalate by Friday with drivers refusing overtime if a deal is not reached with the Coast Mountain Bus Company.

Horgan said Tuesday he was grateful to hear the union and company have agreed to resume talks.

“I believe in free collective bargaining,” he said. “I’m hopeful that both sides will be able to find an agreement so the travelling public will carry on and about their business. That’s the objective that we all want, whether on the workers’ side of the table or the employers’ side of the table.”

READ MORE: Bargaining to resume in Metro Vancouver transit strike as bus driver overtime ban looms

Knight said this is a critical stage in the transit dispute.

“The next few days are really important for the parties to get down to business themselves and hopefully that will result in progress.”

He added the provincial government “can’t go crazy” in terms of making promises it can’t keep if it wants to stay in power, especially because the province’s forestry sector is in a slump, with 2,500 coastal forest workers employed at five Western Forest Products sawmills on strike since July.

Leslie Remund, executive director of the 411 Seniors Centre Society, said a potential transit strike is a “huge” concern because 90 per cent of the elderly people who drop in for services are dependent on buses to get around.

“The majority of our seniors are low-income seniors. They’re (living) cheque to cheque as it is right now so the option of cabs or other alternative transportation isn’t realistic or viable for them.”

The society, which relies on 150 senior volunteers, has been considering alternatives such as carpooling with the help of the community to keep seniors connected with each other if there is a transit strike.

“Our biggest concern is seniors will be at home isolated and not be able to be with their peers or get out,” Remund said. “We’re concerned about their ability to meet their medical appointments or their basic needs of shopping.”

For now, seniors at the centre are supporting transit workers, she said.

Maggie Taylor, 70, said she remembers the hardships for commuters during the four-month transit strike in 2001 when she was still driving.

“There was a lot of organizing at work or trying to pick up somebody at the corner or something like that.”

Since then, the Vancouver region has drawn more people and many are dependent on what has become a broader transit system so a lengthy strike would create chaos, Taylor said.

Another public-sector dispute involves striking faculty members at the University of Northern B.C. in Prince George. Classes have been cancelled for about 3,500 students since members of the Faculty Association walked out last week to back demands for improved wages and wage parity among instructors.

READ MORE: Faculty at Terrace UNBC campus join strike after failed negotiations

On Vancouver Island, support workers including education assistants and custodians at 18 schools in the Saanich district have been on strike over wages since Oct. 28, leaving about 7,000 students out of class.

READ MORE: SD63 students calling on the province to step in and end strike

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

EDITORIAL: Just because it’s not in ink doesn’t mean that good actions don’t exist

Even if there’s no mention of what groups are doing, it’s not a reflection of their lack of effort

Storm prompts travel warning for Boundary, West Kootenay

Up to 25 cm expected on high mountain passes

Cops seize load of pot near Salmo

Traffic stop nets hundreds of pounds of cannabis

Border Bruins look to turn season around in December

The Bruins lost 10 of 12 games in November, along with their captain to a season-ending injury

RDKB gets provincial grant to study Big White community issues

The study is the result of an inquiry from Big White community members about incorporating

‘A loud sonic boom’: Gabriola Island residents recount fatal plane crash

Area where the plane went down is primarily a residential neighbourhood, RCMP say

‘Honest mistake:’ RCMP says B.C. cannabis shop can keep image of infamous Mountie

Sam Steele wearing military, not RCMP uniform in image depicted in Jimmy’s Cannabis window

B.C. conservation officers put down fawn blinded by BB gun on Vancouver Island

Young deer found near construction site in Hammond Bay area in Nanaimo, B.C.

Laid-off forest workers converge on B.C. legislature

Loggers call for action on strike, provincial stumpage

B.C. guide fined $2K in first conviction under new federal whale protection laws

Scott Babcock found guilty of approaching a North Pacific humpback whale at less than 100 metres

Feds urge Air Canada to fix booking problems as travel season approaches

The airline introduced the new reservation system more than three weeks ago

Almost 14,000 Canadians killed by opioids since 2016: new national study

17,000 people have been hospitalized for opioid-related poisoning

Chevron move to exit Kitimat LNG project a dash of ‘cold water’ for gas industry

Canada Energy Regulator approved a 40-year licence to export natural gas for Kitimat LNG

B.C. cities top the list for most generous in Canada on GoFundMe

Chilliwack took the number-two spot while Kamloops was at the top of the list

Most Read