Vive Le Canada

To the Editor, From a B.C. Ferry Worker
Date: Wednesday, December 17 2003

[as reprinted from email; not sure where this first appeared]

To the Editor,

I am a 16 year employee of BC Ferries. I am a wife, mother and grandmother.
I have raised honest, law abiding children, who both work now in Union jobs.
I pay taxes, income and property. I contribute to the economy. I am a good
person. I am a hard working person. I have been loyal to BC Ferries, going
beyond the call of duty for this company.

I have put my life at risk many times years ago in severe storm conditions,
operating a one person island terminal with no power, dragging huge ship to
shore cables, 80 feet long, up to the top of the aprons over churning seas,
and dangling the monster power pugs over the edge for the docking ships'
crews to reach. With the right angle and gust of extreme wind or far
reaching wave, I could many times have been swept out to sea, with no other
staff around to even witness my demise. I have put my life at risk,
repeatedly climbing the gantry (top of the ramp structure, several stories
above the water) to remedy an electrical switch problem that if not
instantly corrected, would cause severe damage to the ramp and the next
docking ship. With repair crews hours away, it had to be done. Such a duty
was prohibited by WCB and not in my job description. But, unofficially, it
was asked and expected of me by my supervisor stationed on another island.

I have taken stranded customers to my home for the night, having no where
else to go and no way to leave the island. I have helped pay customers' fare
out of my own pocket when they were caught short. Sometimes I was repaid,
but just as often, I was not. I and my fellow workers decorated our terminal
with flowers we paid for with our own money and Christmas decorations from
our homes.

The year I spent on the ships, I came to understand the very important role
that all the crew play in being trained and ready at any moment to handle
many different kinds of emergencies. That reality was brought home when I
took my MEC training, THE DROP. It was quite terrifying. Fellow crew broke
bones. In a real emergency, our passengers would also be hurt if not worse,
just in the evacuation procedure itself. It is very insulting to look at any
crew member on board ships and not respect them first for all the various
life saving training they have been trained to do. Wiping tables and
cleaning toilets is secondary to their real purpose for manning the ships,
and all the Captains and Officers look to them as vital members of a highly
trained safety crew. Don't let the company mislead you into thinking that
safety is not an issue. Safety is what every one has come to expect and
takes for granted but it is in vigilant action every day out on the seas.

As a ticket agent at a major terminal now, I have been an asset for BC
Ferries customer service. I like people. I like our customers. I personally
have gone a long way towards creating a positive impression of BC Ferries on
the travelling public. I also do a very good job collecting revenue for this
company, many many $Million over the years.

As in my own example, many Ferry Workers have done a variety of different
jobs over the years. All those different experiences have created a
cohesive, intergrated work force, which up till now, have also helped build
loyalty for our company. We are gravely hurt to hear our president denigrate
us all and the many jobs we have all been proud to work. He has misled the
public to think we are dipping into the "gravy train" of overtime, when in
reality, the sailing schedules of the 1960's are inadequate for 2003. The
ships would not run at all if not for the voluntary overtime that so many
workers give to the company. It is a slap in the face to imply that those
workers are greedy. They would rather be home with their families.

The proceedings of the last few months have been orchestrated by this "New"
"Private" BC Ferry Services Inc. and the Liberal Government to push our
members into a corner. You must have heard by now, what they expected us to
accept. #1 - Longer Hours for less pay. Depending on who and where, between
6 to 10 weeks more work for Free! Would you do it? #2 - Lower wages
resulting in lower benefits for new hires and new positions. #3 - Pension
Plan tampered, and finally, the very worst concession of all that really
makes the last 3 null and void, is #4 - The "Unfettered Right" of the
employer to contract out any and all jobs it sees fit to create PROFIT for
the company. How could we sign away our jobs like that? Would You?

The Liberal Government has, very UNdemocratically created the Coastal Ferry
Act - Bill 18. They have given themselves permission to eliminate sailing
routes after April 2008. They have given themselves permission to increase
fares after April 2008, without limits, if the Service Provider can show
need for costs and profit margins. They have given themselves permission to
sell off assets, routes, service. Basically, they have given themselves
permission to do what ever works for them with no consideration or
obligation to communities or workers.

With Essential Services set this week, it was the Employer who caused all
the problems in sailing the ships on time. They locked out regular, full
time employees of many years, with maximum safety training and experience,
and wanted to exchange them for casuals. By rights, Regular Employees are
entitled to work their regular shifts. They were on the ship to do their
job, but the Managers made them leave. The Union has been unfairly blamed
for this.

The Government's 80 Day Cooling Off Act was extreme interference. The Union
and the Company were in the process of agreeing on the manning of ships'
crews when Campbell jumped in. He has plotted all along to deny us our
democratic right to protest extremely unreasonable demands of the company.
So he pulls out a "law" from 3 decades back and tells us we are suddenly
breaking the law. This has been a set-up, premeditated from the start. There
is question about the legality of the "law" and it's legitimacy in the first

I have been watching very very closely over the last 2 months, and I know
that our Union Leaders have been acting honestly and in good faith. They
purposely have not been dragging this through the media, because they and we
have taken ourselves seriously and did not want to appear as participants in
a mud wrestling match when it became obvious that our employer was slinging
mud at us. Our Union Leaders have behaved with dignity and intergrity in the
face of horrendous insults both to themselves personally and to all our
Union Members, from the Captains on down. Only this "new"company, run by the
over paid American CEO David Hahn ($335,000 plus bonuses), sees our cleaners
and catering staff, our shore staff, our ticket agents, our engineers, in
fact, every one who works here, as not being worth their wages, that they
have rightfully earned over years of lawful bargaining. This "New" company
discredits every employees' years of training, experience, service and years
of poverty level annual incomes before they become regular full time
workers. The life of a casual is very very difficult. Only the hardier souls
survive those early years. Every Ferry Worker here has paid their dues and
is worth every cent they earn.

If I am not fired or in jail 2 weeks from now, I will be working Dec. 24,
25, & 26. This is the 12th or 13th year my Christmas will be disrupted for
the public. My children have grown up on me and I have missed so much. It
hurts to have the angry public drive by our picket lines yelling, "Get a
real job you lazy bums!!" and giving us the middle finger. I don't deserve
that. My fellow Ferry Workers don't deserve that. I am crying as I finish
this letter to you. I've written so many, and so have so many others. This
is how the Jews of Nazi Germany must have felt, to be singled out by race,
religion, ethnicity, - Union Worker. So much of the media has been so biased
against us. Is it because people have been stuck in ferry line-ups? Do you
hate us all because the fares go up? Do you blame us for late sailings when
it is really the fault of one driver who locked his keys in the car on the
first sailing of the morning and delayed the rest of the day?

I've put in 31 hours on the picket line this week. I showed up at my work
station this morning and remained there the entire shift. I am willing to
work. I WANT to work. But I will not be bullied by this Liberal Government
without speaking up. I will support all the other very fine people I work
with and our dearly beloved Union Negotiating Team who are sacrificing so
much for us and for all Labour in this province that is at the precipice of
the same treatment from the Liberals. We are standing up for everyone.

I will be joining the picketers on Fort Street after dinner, and then get up
at 4:00 am tomorrow to head out to my ticket booth at my start time with my
picket sign.

Kerry Fleetwood

This article comes from Vive Le Canada

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