John Higgin and Cliff Bergen sat under a tarp shelter holding picket signs Wednesday in front of Finning Canada’s sales and service outlet in Nanaimo.
Finning workers manning pickets lines is unprecedented in B.C., where the company has operated since 1936 and its employees unionized in 1951.
“B.C.’s never been on strike in 75 years,” said Bergen, parts sales clerk.
Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which has represented Finning’s B.C. and Yukon employees since the mid-1960s, went on strike at 4 p.m. June 22 after voted 89.5 per cent in favour of strike action.
Finning has 700 unionized employees at 25 Finning locations across B.C.
Bergen and Higgin, a mechaninc, are two of 10 Finning workers on strike in Nanaimo.
Orders and other business are carried on by about six management and other non-union staff.
“They see us out here,” Higgin said. “We just wave. They’re friends.”
Both men said they miss being at work and hope the strike will not continue much longer.
Stan Pickthall, union representative, said bargaining started in March and the contract with Finning expired in April.
Grievances about wages, benefits, shifts and sub-contracting are the four primary issues listed i by the union.
“There a number of issues,” Pickthall said. “It’s not about wages and benefits. It’s about sub-contracting. It’s about shifts, particularly modified shifts in some of our remote regions. Wages and benefits is part of it – I wouldn’t characterize those as being key issues – and working conditions.”
Jeff Howard, Finning spokesman, would not comment on specifics of union demands or about how far apart the two sides might be in reaching an agreement.
“We presented what we thought was a fair and equitable offer and the union has decided that’s not what they want, so they went on strike,” Howard said.
He said Finning has always had a good relationship with the union the company does not want risk damaging.
Finning continues to serve its customers during the strike.
“We miss our shop and field guys and our mechanics for sure,” Howard said. “We can still advise our customers. We’re still selling parts. We’re still selling equipment like before.”
A glimmer of hope could come Tuesday (July 5) when Finning and the union go back to the negotiating table.
“We had applied for mediation on the 24th of June and the union had declined to participate in that mediation,” Howard said. “But I’ve learned today [Wednesday] that they have agreed to that, so talks will resume on Tuesday.”