BC Ferries Union Votes in More Militant Leadership

New president Chris Abbott vowed 'Do not vote for me if you are not prepared to fight.'

By Andrew MacLeod 30 May 2012 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's legislative bureau chief in Victoria.

Members of the union representing workers at BC Ferries have elected Chris Abbott to replace incumbent provincial president Richard Goode.

Abbott, who is described as being more militant, won the presidency of the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers' Union with 978 votes to Goode's 480.

"The mandate of our union must be to protect the integrity of the bargaining unit from further erosion and to protect our union as a whole from further governmental experimentation," Abbott said in an April 30 blog post outlining his vision.

"The next three years are all about rebuilding and defining our path," he wrote. "Should a new provincial government come to power this too could lead to major change."

He spoke about better using the media to get the union's point of view across and increasing communication with members. "I have visited with many lately who claim to never have seen or heard of the union president in their local or their worksite," he said.

On a website page titled "Enough is Enough," an Abbott campaign pitch said, "Management will push us just as far as we let them." It continued, "Do not vote for me if you are not prepared to fight. Do not vote for me if you want to have your rights reinterpreted. Do not vote for me if you are not willing to give the mandate we need."

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

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."

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."  [Tyee]

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