Shipyard workers headed out on strike

Union rejects tentative deal from the Irvings and gives 48-hour strike notice.

click to enlarge Shipyard workers headed out on strike
At work inside the Halifax Shipyard.

The Halifax Shipyard’s 800 unionized workers are two days away from the picket line.

Electricians, metal fabricators and other labourers with UNIFOR Marine Workers Local One have voted by 75 percent to reject a new contract from the Irving Shipyard.

“Obviously our members have been frustrated,” said MWF business agent Adam Hersey in a news release sent out Wednesday afternoon. “We have seen unacceptable levels of workers being disciplined needlessly, and what was on the table in the tentative settlement did not go far enough to address the members’ issues in the workplace.”

The four-year tentative agreement would have included pay increases of 1.5 percent per year. But the union says Irving refused to budge on granting paid sick days, despite the fact that supervisors are eligible for sick leave.

“This is not just about economics,” said UNIFOR national president Jerry Dias in the same release. “It’s about respect for workers and fixing the workplace for members and they are clearly sending a strong message to Irving today.”

It’s the latest fight in what the union calls “eight months of tense negotiations.”

Shipyard workers have been without a contract since December 31. Prior to that, the union had overwhelmingly voted in favour of a strike mandate after their employer tabled demands for concessions on rest periods and safety regulations.

“Their proposals do not reflect improved or modernized working conditions, as the removal of breaks and safety provisions are not improvements,” Unifor said at the time.

The union has also been critical of Irving’s continued practice of hiring overseas workers.

The Halifax Shipyard was awarded the $40-billion federal contract for Canada’s new Navy vessels back in 2011 with the promise of jobs, jobs and more job. The company also picked up a ‘smaller’ $2.4-billion contract to build Coast Guard ships. Both contracts are publicly financed.

To accommodate the build, the Shipyard was given $304-million in funding from the province (including a $260-million forgivable “loan”) and a special tax break from city council.

The Irvings are the eighth richest family in Canada, worth over $7 billion.

Picket lines for workers are expected to start Saturday at 9am along Barrington Street by the Shipyard entrance.

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