Union pickets surround GM Place


VANCOUVER — Hockey fans heading to Friday night’s NHL contest between the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings at General Motors Place were treated to a different kind of face-off.

Seven hundred concession workers, cooks and event staff at the downtown Vancouver arena walked off the job Friday morning.

As fans arrived to take in the game, some with pizzas in hand, the workers sang, marched with picket signs and handed out peanuts.

Why peanuts?

"Just to make the point that workers feel like they’re being paid peanuts," said Michelle Travis, spokesperson for Unite Here local 40.

Union members are frustrated by negotiations with their employer, Aramark Sports and Entertainment.

"The main issues that they’ve been fighting for are better wages, for decent medical coverage and for respect on the job," Travis said.

Most union members are currently paid between $10 and $11 an hour, Travis said, adding workers are looking for a "significant increase."

She said job security during the 2010 Olympics Games is also a source for concern among staff.

"They don’t know if (Aramark is) going to be bringing in a flood of volunteers to work the Games. What does that mean for (union members)?"

"They really just want some firm answers on those questions."

Union members did not stop spectators from entering GM Place but asked hockey fans to boycott concessions staffed by Aramark managers.

The B.C. Federation of Labour had asked hockey fans not to cross the picket line.

Federation president Jim Sinclair said union members have been told there’s a good chance they will be laid off during the Olympics.

"This is the second group of workers who have been told they could get pink slips during the Olympics…This is starting to become a problem for a lot of workers," Sinclair said.

Earlier this week, it was revealed 200 workers at Hastings Racecourse and casino will lose their jobs during the Games.

Talks between the union and Aramark collapsed Thursday night.

The strike action was expected to last just one day, though Travis said the union will determine its next step during the weekend.

She said further job action is very possible, depending on the progression of negotiations, or lack thereof.

Harvey Jones, vice-president and general manager of arena operations for Canucks Sports and Entertainment, admitted those attending the game were inconvenienced.

Arena restaurants were closed and the main concourse had a limited number of stations open to provide beverages and pre-packaged food items.

Jones said the hockey team is satisfied Aramark is doing all it can to further negotiations.

"But it’s proving to be quite a difficult challenge in dealing with the union," he said.

A spokesperson for Aramark didn’t return a call seeking comment.

A Labour Relations Board ruling issued Wednesday restricts union picket lines to the stadium’s public entrances, meaning staff, athletes and other entertainers can enter freely.

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