Union looking to grieve B.C. Ferries layoffs

The union representing B.C. Ferries workers is gathering evidence in order to file a grievance after the company started laying off employees Saturday.

Graeme Johnston, president of the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers Union, said Ferries started calling his members Saturday morning to inform them they had been laid off.

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“No notice, no pay, but B.C. Ferries will give an employee $500 if and when recalled,” he said, calling the extent to which the company is disregarding its obligations under the collective agreement staggering.

“I can’t begin to tell you how upset, disappointed and angry I am.”

According to the union, all employees must receive notice of layoff and an option of severance pay.

B.C. Ferries announced Friday that it would be laying off as many as 1,400 workers and cutting service levels in half starting Saturday due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With traffic down close to 80 per cent across its network, B.C. Ferries estimates it is losing between $1.25 million and $1.5 million each day.

Johnston said the union was not surprised by the need to reduce service or to adjust the workforce, but he said they remain surprised B.C. Ferries “announced layoffs without taking any of the steps they are obligated to take under the collective agreement.”

The plan is to ask B.C. Ferries to go to arbitration immediately, Johnston said, though he expects they will refuse, and then they will take the fight to the Labour Relations Board and ask for an expedited hearing given the severity of the circumstances.

“And then we will litigate like crazy,” he said, though he believes the union’s willingness to fight will be cold comfort to those employees no longer getting paycheques.

“Over the years, I was under the impression B.C. Ferries viewed its people differently than the likes of Amazon or other ‘disposable workforce’ employers. Clearly, I was wrong,” Johnston added in a written statement.

When asked whether B.C. Ferries intended to offer notice or severance pay to workers, the company would say only that it was committed to working with the union with respect to this emergency situation.

“We are also committed to approach the necessary temporary layoffs with the utmost consideration and sensitivity to all B.C. Ferries’ employees who are impacted,” Deborah Marshall, B.C. Ferries executive director of public affairs, wrote in an emailed response. “We need all these skilled people back as soon as possible to help restore ferry services when traffic returns.”

B.C. Ferries has suspended the Mill Bay-Brentwood Bay and Horseshoe Bay-Nanaimo routes, and reduced the number of trips between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen, and Duke Point and Tsawwassen.

Service on the Langdale-Horseshoe Bay route has also been reduced, and four cargo-only trips have been added between Tsawwassen and Duke Point.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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