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   Vol. 67/No. 46           December 29, 2003  
British Columbia ferry workers fight
sweeping cutback demands
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HORSESHOE BAY, British Columbia—After a two-day strike, the Ferry and Marine Workers Union agreed to binding arbitration with the British Columbia Ferry Services, the private company that operates the ferry network along the province’s coast. Ferry workers across this province had launched a strike on December 10 in response to a decree by British Columbia labor minister Graham Bruce demanding an 80-day cooling off period between the 4,300 members of the Ferry and Marine Workers Union and the company. The union had begun a limited strike two days earlier.

Despite a decision by the provincial Labor Relations Board (LRB) which had ruled their strike illegal, the unionists continued their shutdown of the province’s ferry system, which was privatized by the Liberal government this past spring. It serves an annual average daily ridership of 60,000 passengers at 48 ports of call.

Key issues in the dispute are contracting out, a proposal by the company that workers receive no overtime pay until they have worked more than 2,088 hours in a year, potential changes to workers’ pensions, and wage cuts from 12.5 percent to 53 percent. On October 31, on the eve of the last contract’s expiration, a record-breaking 82 percent of the union’s membership cast ballots and voted by 97 percent to give the bargaining committee a strike mandate.

“We’re standing up for all unions who, like the Hospital Employees Union (HEU), are having their agreements torn up. We’re fighting to keep a livable wage,” said a striker who asked that her name not be used.

“This government is anti-labor and has been sanctioned by the International Labor Organization. They’re a big-business government with an agenda to privatize and sell off government assets,” said union spokesperson Tom McNeilage.

The fact that the strikers are part of a broader fight that has been taking place against the Liberal government was clear from the participation of workers from many different unions in the first day of picketing here at the Horseshoe Bay Terminal. Among the unions present were the HEU, the British Columbia Teacher’s Federation, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the United Steelworkers of America, and the Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers—which has 10,000 of its members on strike along the province’s coast.  
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