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ruled parties have the right to negotiate class size and composition and school boards maintain the old language is out of date.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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Parksville Royals second at Victoria baseball tournament

Seniors player showcase talents in front of scouts

RCMP: Trio arrested, firearms seized after report of shots fired in rural Qualicum Beach

Police say search also found evidence of large-scale drug operation

Dougal the blind raven enjoys role as ambassador at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre

Bird helps animal care technicians teach visitors about his species

UPDATE: Qualicum Beach man, 51, dies in kayaking incident

No foul play suspected; body was found floating near Lasqueti Island

Heavy rain and strong winds forecast for Parksville Qualicum Beach region

Environment Canada issues wind warning as ‘vigorous’ frontal system approaches

B.C. reports 96 new COVID-19 cases, one hospital outbreak

61 people in hospital as summer ends with election

B.C. could be without a new leader for multiple weeks after Election Day: officials

More than 20K mail-in voting packages were requested within a day of B.C. election being called

Refresh of Liberal government’s agenda comes amid new looming COVID-19 crisis

Lockdowns saw fed spending soar to historic levels in effort to offset pandemic’s blow to Canadians’ livelihoods

BC Liberals must change gears from election cynicism, focus on the issues: UBC professors

COVID-19 response and recovery is likely to dominate platforms

B.C.’s top doctor says she’s received abuse, death threats during COVID-19 response

Henry has become a national figure during her time leading B.C.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Earthquake off coast of Washington recorded at 4.1 magnitude

The quake was recorded at a depth of 10 kilometres

‘Unprecedented’ coalition demands end to B.C. salmon farms

First Nations, commercial fishermen among group calling for action on Cohen recommendations

Vancouver Island sailor stranded in U.S. hospital after suffering massive stroke at sea

Oak Bay man was attempting to circumnavigate the world solo

Most Read