Protesters gathered outside the Terrace UNBC campus at 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 7, carrying signs reading ‘Good educators are priceless, not free’ and ‘On strike.’ (Brittany Gervais/Terrace Standard)

Protesters gathered outside the Terrace UNBC campus at 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 7, carrying signs reading ‘Good educators are priceless, not free’ and ‘On strike.’ (Brittany Gervais/Terrace Standard)

B.C. government grappling with multiple labour disputes by public-sector unions

Public-sector unions may have expectations of a labour-friendly NDP government

The British Columbia government faces a “difficult balancing act” in dealing with labour strife among public-sector unions representing bus drivers in Metro Vancouver, teachers around the province, support staff on Vancouver Island and faculty members at a university in the north, a labour expert says.

Tom Knight, an associate professor specializing in industrial relations and human resources at the University of British Columbia, said Premier John Horgan’s government will have to avoid the actions of its Liberal predecessors, who used legislation to force transit operators back to work in 2001 after a four-month strike.

He said public-sector unions may have expectations of a labour-friendly NDP government, which would have to tread carefully by appealing to unions as well as voters who would be affected by long work stoppages involving transit or education, or both.

“It would be their hope to avoid what the Liberals did,” Knight said.

The former government also stripped teachers of contract provisions in 2002, leading to years of acrimony between the two sides and a provincewide strike that had students out of school for five weeks in 2014.

A lengthy legal battle ended in 2016 when the Supreme Court of Canada restored the previous contract language allowing the teachers’ union to negotiate class size and the number of special-needs students in classrooms but the B.C. Teachers’ Federation says those provisions could now be rolled back.

Teachers have been without a contract since June and recently rejected a mediator’s report that recommended the union accept a three-year contract with an annual two-per-cent salary increase.

The B.C. Public School Employers’ Association says the top court also ruled parties have the right to negotiate class size and composition and school boards maintain the old language is out of date.

READ MORE: BCTF rejects mediator’s recommendations for settlement

Unifor, which represents transit workers embroiled in the current dispute, will return to the bargaining table on Wednesday. However, the union also announced job action would escalate by Friday with drivers refusing overtime if a deal is not reached with the Coast Mountain Bus Company.

Horgan said Tuesday he was grateful to hear the union and company have agreed to resume talks.

“I believe in free collective bargaining,” he said. “I’m hopeful that both sides will be able to find an agreement so the travelling public will carry on and about their business. That’s the objective that we all want, whether on the workers’ side of the table or the employers’ side of the table.”

READ MORE: Bargaining to resume in Metro Vancouver transit strike as bus driver overtime ban looms

Knight said this is a critical stage in the transit dispute.

“The next few days are really important for the parties to get down to business themselves and hopefully that will result in progress.”

He added the provincial government “can’t go crazy” in terms of making promises it can’t keep if it wants to stay in power, especially because the province’s forestry sector is in a slump, with 2,500 coastal forest workers employed at five Western Forest Products sawmills on strike since July.

Leslie Remund, executive director of the 411 Seniors Centre Society, said a potential transit strike is a “huge” concern because 90 per cent of the elderly people who drop in for services are dependent on buses to get around.

“The majority of our seniors are low-income seniors. They’re (living) cheque to cheque as it is right now so the option of cabs or other alternative transportation isn’t realistic or viable for them.”

The society, which relies on 150 senior volunteers, has been considering alternatives such as carpooling with the help of the community to keep seniors connected with each other if there is a transit strike.

“Our biggest concern is seniors will be at home isolated and not be able to be with their peers or get out,” Remund said. “We’re concerned about their ability to meet their medical appointments or their basic needs of shopping.”

For now, seniors at the centre are supporting transit workers, she said.

Maggie Taylor, 70, said she remembers the hardships for commuters during the four-month transit strike in 2001 when she was still driving.

“There was a lot of organizing at work or trying to pick up somebody at the corner or something like that.”

Since then, the Vancouver region has drawn more people and many are dependent on what has become a broader transit system so a lengthy strike would create chaos, Taylor said.

Another public-sector dispute involves striking faculty members at the University of Northern B.C. in Prince George. Classes have been cancelled for about 3,500 students since members of the Faculty Association walked out last week to back demands for improved wages and wage parity among instructors.

READ MORE: Faculty at Terrace UNBC campus join strike after failed negotiations

On Vancouver Island, support workers including education assistants and custodians at 18 schools in the Saanich district have been on strike over wages since Oct. 28, leaving about 7,000 students out of class.

READ MORE: SD63 students calling on the province to step in and end strike

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A sign indicating a COVID-19 testing site is displayed inside a parking garage in West Nyack, N.Y., Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. The site was only open to students and staff of Rockland County schools in an effort to test enough people to keep the schools open for in-person learning. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
4 more deaths, 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

This brings the total to 66 deaths in the region

11 more cases of COVID-19 have been linked to a cluster on Big White Mountain. Pictured above is TELUS park at Big White Ski Resort, Jan. 26. (Big White Ski Resort)
11 more cases of COVID-19 linked to Big White cluster

This brings the total case count to 225, according to health authorities in a Tuesday update

Okanagan Clinical Trials is looking at gut bacteria as a way of slowing down the development of Alzheimer’s. (Alzheimer Society of B.C. photo)
Okanagan study looking for volunteers of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s

The study is looking at how gut bacteria may help slow the disease

Kevin Lee Barrett pleaded guilty to the aggravated assault of his mother Eleanor Holmes on Tuesday, Jan. 26. (File)
UPDATE: West Kelowna man who beat his mom could be sentenced up to 9 years

Kevin Barrett entered a surprise guilty plea to the lesser charge of aggravated assault on Tuesday morning

A bus at downtown Kelowna’s Queensway Transit Exchange. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna transit system poised for recovery: transit manager

2021 numbers already show ridership levels at or higher than the projected recovery

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

Interior Health reported two more COVID-19 deaths at Sunnybank Retirement Center in Oliver Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (File photo)
COVID-19 claims lives of two more South Okanagan care home residents

Five residents of the Oliver care home have died since the outbreak was first declared

Vernon now has an approved 13 cannabis shops in town. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Vernon, the ‘Pot capital of B.C.’ greenlights two new stores downtown

Two more shops, within 240 metres, approved, despite neighbouring businesses opposition

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

Oliver Elementary School
Former Oliver PAC treasurer charged with fraud returns to court

Belinda Yorke will be in court to fix a date for trial in February

Two fibreglass bees were stolen from Vernon’s Planet Bee Honey Farm Nov. 22, 2020. (Facebook)
Stolen bee returned to Vernon honey farm

Two months after thieves buzzed off with two bee sculptures, public tips led police one of them

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Most Read