B.C. Place workers considering strike action

Thursday vote won’t affect stadium’s reopening on Friday

By Bob MacKin, Vancouver Courier September 28, 2011

When B.C. Place Stadium reopens Friday, its unionized workers could be counting the hours until they walk off the job.

Members of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union Local 1703 will vote Thursday on whether to give negotiators the power to declare a strike. BCGEU spokeswoman Karen Tankard said the union wants a new collective bargaining agreement, not a strike.

“It’s not our intention to issue the 72-hour strike notice anyway, it is something we will have in our [bargaining] arsenal,” Tankard said.

Tankard said B.C. Lions and Vancouver Whitecaps’ fans can rest assured the teams’ first matches in the stadium won’t be affected. The Lions return to host the Edmonton Eskimos Friday at 7: 30 p.m., while the Whitecaps play their first Major League soccer game downtown against the Portland Timbers Sunday at 1: 30 p.m.

Thursday’s 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. voting at the Hyatt Regency was announced after Local 1703 members met Sept. 23. Tankard said Monday, “we have no response” from employer B.C. Pavilion Corporation since the announcement.

“This is all about job security,” she said. “B.C. Place management wants to downgrade some of the jobs to part-time and management has contracted some of our security work to Genesis Security.”

No pay raise is on the table because of the government-wide wage freeze. Tradespeople, building and event maintenance workers earn $29.59 per hour under the four-year contract that expired May 31. At the lowend, event housekeepers and hosts earn $13.99 per hour. New workers get 15 per cent less until their pay is toppedup with a retention bonus after achieving 100 hours.

“It’s not money, it’s job security,” Tankard said. “The workers are subject to the provincial government mandate. They have to serve it for two years.”

PavCo, according to a prepared statement, “has no comment on the strike vote, or any other aspect of the ongoing negotiation process.”

Scheduled sessions with mediator Mark Brown ended Sept. 8, but informal talks continued.

If B.C. Place events are disrupted, games could be shifted back to Empire Field. Crews from Nussli, the Switzerland-based supplier of the temporary grandstands, are expected to begin the dismantling job in October.

The Whitecaps lost their last scheduled match there on Sept. 24 to the Seattle Sounders but are training there three times this week. Whitecaps chief executive Paul Barber said the club is “totally focused” on moving to B.C. Place.

“For us it’s business as usual,” Barber said. “We’re keeping in close touch with the guys at PavCo for any information. It’s not our dispute, we’re not involved in it.”

Government intervened to solve a short-lived B.C. Place strike in February 2005 that delayed a boat show set-up.

Meanwhile, Sarah McLachlan will sing “O Canada” before Friday’s Lions’ kickoff. A Patrick Roberge Productions halftime show will celebrate the new era for the building that opened in 1983.

2010goldrush@gmail.com

© Copyright (c) Vancouver Courier

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