B.C.’s Minister of Labour will not be intervening in the dispute between the Strathcona Regional District and unionized workers at the Strathcona Gardens recreation complex in Campbell River.
Negotiations between the United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 and the regional district has been ongoing for over a year, with things coming to a head in November when workers went on strike asking for a cost of living agreement.
The Strathcona Regional District made a settlement offer to the union on Dec. 13, which the union says was relatively the same as a previous agreement but included a pro-rated signing bonus of $750 that was based on hours worked in 2021.
The workers voted against that agreement.
SRD Employee and USW Shop Steward and member of the USW Bargaining Community, Laura Boyle said that, “the SRD Bargaining Committee has grossly underestimated the unity and the solidarity of our members. Now, more than ever, our members are committed to standing united together in order to get a fair wage and good working conditions for everyone in the operation. It just goes to show you how completely out of touch the employer representatives are with the workforce.
“We do good work for the public, but we feel unfairly compensated and disrespected.”
A few days later, on Dec. 15, the SRD wrote to the Minister of Labour Harry Bains to ask him to intervene and order a last offer vote on members. Under the Labour Code, the minister can force a vote in a labour disagreement if “the minister considers that it is in the public interest.”
However, Bains responded saying that “The employer’s submission makes no mention for how such a direction is in the public interest. I note the submission identifies that Strathcona Gardens is a popular and well used public facility for which a strike has caused great disruption. But beyond this, there is no indication of how the strike, after only one month, has impacted the public interest.”
“The mere unavailability of a recreation facility for a short period of time cannot be said to be causing so great a disruption that the public interest requires the intervention in this case. There is no question that a strike (or a lockout) can have an effect well beyond the employer and the union – and there can be no quarrel that that is one of the key impacts of a work stoppage.”
The Labour Code says that Bains does have the power to intervene when a work stoppage “poses a threat to the health, safety or welfare of the residents of British Columbia.”
However, Bains says that this is not the case.
“I encourage the parties to continue to make efforts to reach a mutually acceptable renewal collective agreement,” Bains said in his letter.
After hearing the news, union spokesperson Shelley Siemens said “no employer in this province should have the right to use the Labour Minister’s office to force a vote on any union under this clause, if they are not an essential service and certainly not in an attempt to circumvent the union members’ fundamental right to free and fair collective bargaining, when a union is already on strike.”