The labour dispute that caused disruptions to the Kootenay Lake ferries for three months is over.
The BC Government and Service Employees Union, which represents 80 members of Local 2009, announced last week it has ratified a new collective agreement with employer Western Pacific Marine.
Union president Stephanie Smith said 83 per cent of members voted in favour of a five-year deal that will eventually achieve wage parity with BC Ferries employees.
“We’re looking at the sustainability of the ferries,” said Smith. “We want to ensure smooth sailing for both our members and the members of the community.”
The agreement, which expires March 2024, also includes improvements to employee benefits, seniority protections, vacation time and premiums.
Restrictions on rehiring retired employees and a plan to phase out temporary employee positions are also part of the new deal. Smith said Western Pacific has committed to training existing employees to fill upcoming vacancies over the next 10 years.
The agreement ends months of scheduling disruptions and heated exchanges between the two sides.
The union walked off the job for three days at the end of August, and then refused to have its workers put in overtime. That meant the MV Osprey 2000 and MV Balfour, which run between the Kootenay Bay and Balfour terminals, were shutting down mid-afternoon throughout the week.
Western Pacific Marine released a statement in October that criticized the union for requesting a pay package “that would make ferry service on Kootenay Lake more costly than the company could sustain.”
Meanwhile, a group called Our Ferry Matters held demonstrations advocating for an end to the labour battle.
Organizer Megan Rokeby-Thomas said in a statement the group is happy the ferry has returned to normal service.
“Our members are thrilled and relieved to know that we now have stability for the long-term on this essential transportation route between Balfour and Kootenay Bay,” said Rokeby-Thomas.
The agreement with Western Pacific is the last of three inland ferry contracts negotiated by the union this year. Smith said she expects the Kootenay Lake agreement will be welcomed by both ferry users and her members.
The new deal also applies to the ferries at Glade and Harrop, which were under an essential services agreement and not affected by job action.
“Our members who work in these communities. They live there. They understand how important these ferries are to the communities,” Smith said. “I think everyone is pretty pleased to have things settled.”