Tuesday, October 18, 2011

B.C. Place: no strike before Sunday

UPDATE: The Vancouver Whitecaps will play their season finale in labour peace on Oct. 22. The B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union has decided not to immediately act on its strike threat. Fan appreciation day will go ahead with the 4 p.m. kickoff against the Colorado Rapids. Read more here.

The last Vancouver Whitecaps game of their inaugural Major League Soccer season is now in jeopardy.

Same goes for the rest of the B.C. Lions' home schedule, Vanier Cup and the Grey Cup.

Local 1703 of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union has issued 72-hour strike notice to B.C. Pavilion Corporation, which means the stadium could be behind picket lines by Oct. 21, the day before the Whitecaps are scheduled to host the MLS-champion Colorado Rapids.

A source tells me that talks have gone nowhere, as the Crown corporation that operates the stadium is intent on contracting out work that once was performed by union members. PavCo also doesn't want to include anti-bullying language in the new contract. No pay raise is on the table, because of a public sector wage freeze.

The previous contract expired May 31. The breakdown in contract talks contravenes the shiny, happy optimism expressed by Premier Christy Clark at a Grey Cup festival news conference on Oct. 13.

Depending on what happens, the game may have to be relocated, since Empire Field appears to be beyond the point of return. The north end zone seating was dismantled and the roof panels removed when I drove by the site on Oct. 17.

Below is the news release issued in the afternoon on Oct. 18.

BCGEU issues 72 Hours Strike Notice to BC Pavilion Corporation

The parties have made several attempts to reach a tentative agreement, but even with the assistance of a mediator, we have failed to do so.

On October 17, 2011, the BCGEU asked the mediator book out of the mediated talks between the parties.

The focus of the bargaining committee has been around job security, which is our key issue. We are concerned about contracting out and reduction of work hours.

The union wants to advise the membership it has exercised the strike mandate, and has issued the employer 72 hours strike notice today October 18, 2011.

It is in the legal position to exercise the strike mandate as early this Friday afternoon.

It took PavCo three hours to respond with a statement of its own:

"BC Pavilion Corporation (PavCo), which operates BC Place, is issuing the following brief statement in response to the strike notice issued by BC Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) Local 1703 regarding the latest round of bargaining:

“BC Place is disappointed to announce that despite its agreement to a number of significant union demands, the BCGEU has asked Mediator Mark Brown to book out of the negotiations. This afternoon, the BCGEU served 72 hour strike notice, and has indicated that it will be in a legal strike position as early as Friday afternoon.

"Should the BCGEU commence strike action and withdraw their members, BC Place will be unable to operate for upcoming scheduled events.

"While PavCo and the union are both committed to not commenting on the details of these issues in public, PavCo stresses that it has agreed to numerous union proposals in the past six months, including some new issues introduced late in the process. PavCo has also agreed to accept the mediator's recommendations in full.

"Despite this setback, PavCo remains optimistic that further progress will be made and upcoming events will not be impacted."

Whitecaps chief executive Paul Barber is now facing one last challenge in an exceedingly difficult season.

"We're hoping the situation gets resolved in the next few days. Empire's not an option, given the size of our season ticket base neither is Swangard," Barber told me. "We're very much relying on PavCo and the union working things through."

Barber said the Whitecaps may move their Oct. 21 practice scheduled for B.C. Place, so as to avoid a picket line.

The season finale match is important on several counts. The club has two consecutive home wins and is hoping for a third. It's also fan appreciation night.

"In a season that's been as difficult as it has been for us, the way fans have stuck with us, (we want) to say thank you to them," Barber said.

As of 5:15 p.m., PavCo had not issued a statement.

Oct. 21 just so happens to be a Friday... and Fridays are not kind to B.C. Place Stadium, which underwent a $563 million, taxpayer-funded renovation.

Consider the history of B.C. Place's "Friday Frustration" in my latest Business in Vancouver column:

Biv Bc Place

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