Picket lines ex­pected at Halifax ship­yard on Saturday

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE -

The union at the Halifax ship­yard where the “back­bone’’ of the next gen­er­a­tion of Royal Cana­dian Navy ves­sels are be­ing built has given 48-hour strike no­tice, with picket lines ex­pected to go up Saturday morn­ing.

Uni­for is­sued a news re­lease late Wednesday say­ing a strong ma­jor­ity of 850 union­ized em­ploy­ees at Irv­ing’s Halifax Ship­yard have re­jected a ten­ta­tive con­tract.

Ma­rine Work­ers Fed­er­a­tion Lo­cal 1 said in the re­lease that 75 per cent of its mem­bers voted against the deal of­fered fol­low­ing eight months of ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The union said the four-year ten­ta­tive agree­ment that was re­jected in­cluded wage in­creases of 1.5 per cent per year over the next four years.

Chad John­ston, a Uni­for na­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tive and lead ne­go­tia­tor, noted ten­sions were high go­ing into ne­go­ti­a­tions, and the is­sues are not just about eco­nomics.

“There were a lot of dis­ci­pline is­sues that were in­creas­ing in the work­place, and it led to an over­all tense round of ne­go­ti­a­tions,’’ said John­ston at a news con­fer­ence Thursday.

“As a re­sult, we did our best to reach a ten­ta­tive agree­ment for our mem­bers, but they have sent a very clear mes­sage ... that they’re not in­ter­ested in ac­cept­ing the ten­ta­tive agree­ment reached.’’

John­ston said there had been a change in lead­er­ship and with it came in­creased dis­ci­plinary ac­tions, where the “pun­ish­ment did not fit the crime.’’ He said there were about 100 dis­ci­plinary oc­cur­rences in 2014, com­pared to 300 cases in 2016.

“It’s about the re­spect of the work­force and treat­ing peo­ple fairly,’’ he said. “These are cov­eted jobs. We know they’re good jobs. But good pay does not give the right of an em­ployer to use poor treat­ment.’’

He said an­other con­tentious is­sue is the com­pany’s use of tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers.

“When we have a seven per cent un­em­ploy­ment rates in Nova Sco­tia and 11,000 ap­pli­ca­tions on file, then Uni­for’s po­si­tion is that there’s ab­so­lutely no ques­tion that the qual­i­fi­ca­tions ex­ist in this prov­ince, and if not in the prov­ince, def­i­nitely within the coun­try, for ship­builders,’’ John­ston said.

He said the union is still will­ing to sit down with the com­pany, but there are no meet­ings planned at this point.

Kevin Mc­Coy, pres­i­dent of Irv­ing Ship­build­ing, said in a state­ment Thursday that the ten­ta­tive agree­ment re­jected by the union mem­ber­ship was fair for the com­pany and union.

“Given that both the lo­cal and na­tional mem­bers of the union bar­gain­ing com­mit­tee rec­om­mended that this ten­ta­tive agree­ment should be ac­cepted, in the days ahead we will keep the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open with the union in the hope that they will re­con­sider their po­si­tion,’’ Mc­Coy said.

“Halifax Ship­yard ship­builders have well-pay­ing ca­reers in a mod­ern work­place that al­lows them and their fam­i­lies to plan for the fu­ture. We hope they will re­con­sider their po­si­tion on the pro­posed col­lec­tive agree­ment.’’

The state­ment said the agree­ment would see a jour­neyper­son ship­builder’s hourly rate in­crease from $34.80 to $35.32 and in­cludes in­creased RRSP con­tri­bu­tions and im­proved ac­cess to va­ca­tion time.

Larry Haiven, a pro­fes­sor emeritus of labour re­la­tions at the Sobeys School of Busi­ness at Saint Mary’s Uni­ver­sity in Halifax, said in an in­ter­view that it ap­pears the ten­sions have been brew­ing for some time.

“This comes af­ter sev­eral years of man­age­ment tight­en­ing the screws. There’s a lot of bag­gage that comes into this set of ne­go­ti­a­tions,’’ he said.

“It’s not just the pay lev­els or the ben­e­fits. There’s a lot of bad blood, a lot of dis­ci­plinary ac­tions. There’s a lot on the ta­ble be­yond the usual.’’

Still, the ob­server of Halifax’s labour scene said it’s dif­fi­cult to pre­dict what will un­fold in the clos­ing hours be­fore the an­tic­i­pated walk­out.

“You never know un­til the 11th hour and even past it,’’ he said.

Haiven said while the union mem­ber­ship may be “an­gry,’’ the right of­fer could still pre­vent a strike.

One fac­tor that may en­cour­age a deal is that the ship­build­ing yard is on a tight sched­ule to pro­duce the or­der for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, Haiven said.

“The fact there are or­ders on the books and no­body wants to see the place shut down for awhile is go­ing to push both sides,’’ he said.

A news re­lease is­sued on May 30 by J.D. Irv­ing said Canada’s first Arc­tic and off­shore pa­trol ship is set to launch this fall.


The Irv­ing Ship­build­ing fa­cil­ity is seen in Halifax on Thursday. The union at the ship­yard, build­ing some of the Royal Cana­dian Navy’s new ships, has given 48-hour strike no­tice.

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