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'The people on the ships run the business,' says new ferry union president

Members of the union representing workers at BC Ferries wanted a change, said president-elect Chris Abbott.

"It seems to me our membership are a tad demoralized, they're unhappy with the way things are going and they're looking for a change," said Abbott. "Our membership is notorious for letting you know when they're unhappy and they vote accordingly."

Abbott won the leadership of the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers' Union with 978 votes over incumbent president Richard Goode's 480.

He said members are concerned about the effects of the Coastal Ferry Act, the company's move to exclude senior officers from the union and a recent contract extension that the union executive approved without enough consultation.

The company needs to acknowledge that excluding officers from the union was a mistake, he said. "There's been a mass exodus of engineers," he said, noting that Saltspring alone had lost three, Swartz Bay had lost five and many more have left throughout the fleet.

The decision is leading to instability, he said, but the publicly owned company "seems bound and determined to go full speed ahead with that."

Abbott, now a deckhand on the Howe Sound Queen, has been with the company 22 years. A decade ago he served as the first vice-president of the union. He said he's someone who's willing to negotiate when it's appropriate, but added, "I'm not easily pushed around."

His three-year term starts June 1. He said he'll be pushing to give workers a greater say on safety, management of the company and the purchase of any new vessels. "The people on the ships run the business," he said. "Everyone else is ancillary to that effort."

BCFMWU members also elected Jeremy Bryant as first vice president, Shawna Walsh as second vice-president and Kevin Lee as secretary-treasurer.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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