Negotiations stalled between ferry workers union and Lax Kw’alaams

Negotiations between the Lax Kw'alaams Band Council and the Lax Kw’alaams ferry service workers have “stalled,” according to union negotiator, Ken Lippett.

Negotiations between the Lax Kw’alaams Band Council and the Lax Kw’alaams ferry service workers have “stalled,” according to union negotiator, Ken Lippett.

Workers with the ferry service between Port Simpson and Prince Rupert walked off the job early this month after negotiations with the band council broke down. According to Lippett, the council ordered the ferry operator to hire replacements for the striking workers last week, but failed to find anyone willing to cross the picket line.

“Most of the people who would be qualified to work on that boat have been members of unions at one time or another and don’t believe in scabbing a strike,” says Lippett.

According to Lippett, the unionized crew members are looking for an eight per cent wage increase over the next three years but the counter-offer from the band council has been one per cent. They are also looking for statutory holidays off and to be paid for the hours of downtime they have to wait through between runs.

There is also a question of overdue wages that the union says crew members are owed by Lax Kw’alaams. According to Lippett, between all four striking crew members, the band owes them $13,000 which has accumulated since last July.

The overdue wages are a part of the dispute between the crew and the band council over pay for downtime. Lippett says that even if the crew isn’t sailing per se, they’re working between runs and the council is “arbitrarily deciding what hours it will pay for”.

“The crew is funny in that they actually want to be paid for the hours they work,” says Lippett.

The crew is negotiating their first collective agreement with Lax Kw’alaams. Regular negotiations broke down last month and then had to continue with mediation from the Federal Labour Board. When that didn’t work, the crew held a strike vote and gave the band council 72 hours notice on January 4 and have been on strike since January 7.

According to Lippett, the negotiations have been reduced to a series of sporadic phone calls between himself and the band council. An answer to the question of the $13,000 in back-wages is expected soon, but the ferry service to Port Simpson could be out for some time to come.

Lippett says that the lack of ferry service is an “inconvenience” for residents of Port Simpson, but points out that they still have access to water taxis to get to and from the community.