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BC Ferries officers declining non-union positions

Senior officers with B.C. Ferry Services Inc. are making public their dispute with the government-owned company over being excluded from their union.

"They fear that losing the protection of collective representation will constrain highly trained, certified and experienced employees from voicing professional concerns about important matters, most notably: public safety and environmental issues," said a statement posted on a new West Coast Ships' Officers Association website.

According to the statement, more than 80 percent of the senior ships' engineers are believed to have refused offers of BC Ferries positions outside the union, despite salaries and possible bonuses "well above" what they're paid as members of the BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union.

On September 9, 2010, a ruling by mediator Vince Ready was released that allowed for senior managers to be removed from the union. The union appealed the ruling to the Labour Relations Board. The WCSOA statement argues the exclusion process should stop until the LRB makes its ruling.

"Contrary to controversial BCF statements, ships’ officers have a keen interest and key role in implementing and achieving safety, dependability, efficiency, and other BC Ferries goals and objectives," the statement said.

"For more than five decades ships’ officers in BC have earned widespread public trust and confidence, as well as an international reputation for excellence," it said. "They are now calling on the corporation, government, the LRB, and the public to continue to support a proud tradition of safety, dependability and service in a proven integrated ferry system."

As one engineer described the situation in a December, 2010, email to The Tyee, it's the most senior people who are likely to refuse the new excluded positions. "This leaves those positions open to officers with basically no experience with BC Ferries," he wrote. "This will mean the least experienced employees will be in charge of the ships integrity and machinery."

Another senior BC Ferries employee suggested the reluctance is part of a general distrust of the company. "I can honestly say that this company treats its employees like dirt," he wrote. "I think you would have difficulty finding more than a handful of ships officers who are actually satisfied with the way they are being treated."

In the past, wages and benefits made up for the fact the management appeared to be "at war" with its employees, he said. "This is changing, as the company introduces draconian and, in some cases, politically motivated policies in order to establish 'flexibility,'" he wrote. "Exclusion being the latest initiative designed to keep the fleet running at all costs."

Another, who said he figured taking the excluded position would mean less pay overall, worried about "becoming technically a staffing pool person on the end of a blackberry" for the rest of his career.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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