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Victoria Shipyard workers get new four-year deal

Deal narrowly accepted; union official says he expected rejection
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Victoria Shipyards operates at the federally owned Esquimalt Graving Dock. Credit: Seaspan

Unionized workers at Victoria Shipyards may have a new four-year contract, but they aren’t happy about it.

Workers voted 53 per cent to ratify the new deal, but Robert Taylor of Local 191 of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the bargaining agent for the group of unions, said he couldn’t call the vote a success.

“Forty-seven per cent of people are unhappy with the outcome,” he said.

Taylor said he actually expected the vote to go the other way, and has been preparing to be on strike.

“Essentially half the workforce is unhappy and it is going to take some time and a lot of work to improve morale and the relationship between the employer and the union,” he said. “This has not been a positive experience, and I will have more work to improve these relations.”

Workers, represented by 10 unions, had been working under an overtime ban as the first stage of job action.

Victoria Shipyards is based at the federally owned Esquimalt Graving Dock, carrying out work for a range of customers, with huge contracts at times valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It has upgraded navy frigates, worked on Canada’s submarines, and done refits on cruise ships.

Numbers rise and fall ­depending on the jobs ­underway, but last year saw 1,400 union members working at the ­shipyard.

The company is owned by North Vancouver-based Seaspan.

Full details of the deal were not available, but it is understood some contentious items had been removed from earlier proposals including an alternative work schedule, removing seniority and a plan to eliminate the second coffee break of the day.

Seaspan has also improved its financial compensation model slightly from what was previously proposed, with a 0.5 per cent wage increase in two of the four years and a signing bonus.

“I didn’t think it was enough to pass a ratification vote,” said Taylor.

In a statement, Seaspan said it was pleased a deal is in place.

“The new collective agreement, effective through to 2026, balances the interests of our employees while enabling the business to grow and position for the future. Seaspan Shipyards values its employees and the communities in which it operates, and is committed to maintaining a strong, capable workforce,” it said.

aduffy@timescolonist.com