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Travel industry prepares but hopes border-services strike can be averted

Hotels, transportation companies worry about delays in processing incoming passengers
A border officer talks to a motorist after the arrival of the Coho ferry from Port Angeles, Washington, on Wednesday. Black Ball Ferry Line, which operates the Coho, says it has a contingency plan for handling traffic if there are delays in processing disembarking vehicles. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Vancouver Island hospitality and transportation businesses are ­cautiously optimistic a contract dispute involving Canada Border Services Agency workers will be resolved before a threatened strike that could start as early as Friday afternoon.

The Public Service Alliance of ­Canada, which represents about 9,000 border workers, is warning of potential travel disruptions at border crossings if there is no deal by 4 p.m. Eastern time on Friday.

It said its members have been working without a contract for more than two years.

Coast Hotels, which operates hotels in the U.S and Canada, including properties in Victoria, Nanaimo, Parksville and Campbell River on Vancouver Island, said any disruptions at the border could have “significant ramifications” for cross-border traffic, including delays that could hurt the hospitality, travel and tourism industries.

“We understand that negotiations can be challenging, but it’s essential to prioritize the needs of travellers and businesses that rely on efficient border operations,” Coast Hotels said in a statement.

Mark Paul, director of sales and marketing for Chateau Victoria, said the impact of any job action wouldn’t come near the disruption the industry saw during the pandemic.

Paul said the hotel has a significant number of bookings right now and plans to bring in a contingency plan only if the job action becomes a reality.

One concern is that staff will have to deal with travellers upset over delays, he said.

Reid James, general manager at the Hotel Grand Pacific, said he’s confident both sides will work it out.

James said that there have been no border-related cancellations at the hotel, which is busy with visitors attending a number of conferences.

Local tour operators said it’s too early to worry about a possible strike.

“I don’t think it will have much impact on our operations unless it lasts for an extended period of time,” said David Rose, owner-operator of Mile Zero Tours, a Victoria-based company that offers local and international tours.

He said that most of his tours don’t cross the border but operators that deal with international visitors, such as the cruise-ship sector, could feel more impact.

Jarryd Burles, assistant district manager for Black Ball Ferry Line, which operates the MV Coho between Victoria and Port Angeles, Washington, said the threatened strike “couldn’t come at a worse time.”

June usually sees an uptick in holiday travellers on both sides of the border as the school year wraps up, he said.

If the strike becomes a reality and agents work to rule, processing travellers may take longer than usual, Burles said.

He said the company has a contingency plan for handling traffic if there are delays in processing disembarking vehicles in Victoria. South-bound traffic will be unaffected.

FRS Clipper, which operates passenger ferries between Victoria and Seattle, said it also has a plan for managing delays if talks fail.

“Should the situation escalate, FRS Clipper will implement a contingency plan accordingly and communicate it to our travellers and partners. Our team in Canada have been communicating with the relevant authorities in Victoria throughout,” said Gordon Dirker, CEO for FRS Clipper’s U.S. entities, in a statement.

“We continue to monitor the situation, hoping that a solution can still be found.”

Canada Border Services Agency said in a statement Thursday that 90 per cent of its frontline officers are considered essential workers in the event of a strike.

Under the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act, employees in essential-services positions are obligated to provide uninterrupted service.

All ports of entry will remain open and employees cannot intentionally slow down border processing, the border services agency said.

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