Private contractors trying to enforce seven-year contracts and tiny pay increases on workers
Victoria (27 May 2007) - The British Columbia Labour Relations Board (BCLRB) has appointed mediator Vince Ready to assist with negotiations between B.C. highway workers and private maintenance contractors.
The order was included in a decision affecting stalled negotiations between the contractors and the British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU/NUPGE).
The board has been bombarded with applications from contractors (hired by the province to maintain highways in 28 service areas) to redefine the scope of bargaining, fix the length of a new contract, challenge strike votes and evade allegations of bad faith bargaining.
Essentially, the board advised both sides that litigation is unlikely to result in a new agreement and urged them to get on with negotiations.
The BCGEU says the ruling imposes no restrictions on job action currently taking place or contemplated by highway employees.
"We argued, and the (board) ruled, that there are no restrictions whatsoever on the union's right to maintain strikes, take further strike votes or commence additional strike action," the union notes. "Job action is always a last resort, but the decision reaffirms our right to withdraw services if negotiations are going nowhere."
BCGEU members at VSA Highways Maintenance have been locked out for more than five weeks in the Nicola-Merritt area. Members at Mainroad South Island Contracting on southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands walked out May 22 and members in the Prince George service area, employed by Yellowhead Road and Bridge, walked out May 23.
Workers in others parts of the province are either preparing to strike or taking strike votes. Members at Argo Road Maintenance in Okanagan-Shuswap could be out early this week after voting 94% to strike action if necessary.
"Together we are bringing pressure to bear on highways contractors across the province," BCGEU says.
"This strike activity will reinforce our position to reject seven-year contracts with increases as paltry as 0.27% annually. The union welcomes the (board) decision and is fully committed to broad based negotiations on all outstanding issues that will lead to a fair collective agreement for our members. This has been our position from the start."
Update: Approximately 115 workers employed by Argo Road Maintenance Workers walked off the job on May 28.