B.C. truckers consider suing ferry workers union

LANGLEY, B.C. (Dec. 18, 2003) — Citing millions of dollars of potential losses by the coastal trucking industry, the British Columbia Trucking Association is considering a class action lawsuit against B.C. Ferries and Marine Workers Union.

Although the union has sent workers back to their jobs and full service has resumed temporarily after both the union and B.C. Ferries Corp. agreed to binding arbitration last week, there’s a possibility some BCTA members may look to the courts to recoup losses during what it calls an illegal strike. BCTA estimates anywhere up to $30,000 have been lost per carrier due to ferry service cancellations and delays.

BCTA chief Paul Landry argues that while passengers made alternate accommodations via water taxies or air, there are less options for carriers, which make about 1,300 trips per day on the ferry service, worth an estimated worth $1 million to the industry.

Limited strike activity began two weeks ago, as negotiations between the union and B.C. Ferries broke down, mainly due to salary and job security issues. Despite B.C. Ferries being declared an essential service — which included reduced service guidelines, as well as priority service to emergency vehicles, school buses, and trucks — sailing schedules fell apart even before the first workers hit the picket lines, as both parties disagreed over how the vessels should be staffed.

“We were prepared to be discomforted based on essential service levels,” Landry told Today’s Trucking. “But the essential service levels were not being met, and the reduced service fell apart immediately.”

By late last week, the union was striking illegally as it defied a B.C. Labour Relations Board ruling ordering the workers back to their jobs for an 80-day cooling off period during the busy holiday and New Year season. Last Friday the illegal strike ended and service resumed as the union and the company agreed to binding arbitration.

“As soon as we knew there was an illegal action on the way, we advised our members to keep a record of any losses they may experience,” Landry said. “We had consulted with our lawyers who said that in an illegal strike situation, there is significant case law that states the unions can be held responsible for the losses.”

While the BCTA and its lawyers are taking the class action option seriously, Landry says none of the BCTA members claiming losses has yet to assume the lead in launching the suit.

Meanwhile, the strikes and service disruptions that followed have given fodder to proponents calling for a bridge linking the mainland to Vancouver Island. While he says there are not many in the region who would disagree over the desirability for a bridge, Landry says the reality is that a “bridge brings with it tremendous engineering and economic challenges.”

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