Negotiations between Finning and workers broke down Wednesday leading to the first ever strike by their B.C. employees.
Finning's 700 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) Local 692 employed the company at its 25 locations province-wide hit the picket line Thursday after management and the union's bargaining team failed to reach an agreement on about a dozen issues.
Wages, benefits, shifts and sub-contracting are the four main issues of concern for workers who voted by a margin of 89.5 per cent in favour of strike action.
"We have represented these workers at Finning since the mid 1960's and until now we have never had to resort to strike action, but the company has left us with no alternative," said Chair of the union's Finning bargaining committee, Stan Pickthall.
He said their dispute with management comes down to fairness. During the last round of negotiations, in 2009, Pickthall noted members accepted a zero-zero contract over two years.
"Finning's employees accepted that offer because it was hard times," Pickthall said, "We were in the middle of a recession and employees bit the bullet. Now employees are saying it's time to make good."
The time is ripe for wage and benefit increases, from the workers' perspective, in light of the fact the company recently posted record-breaking first quarter earnings. Q1 earnings were up 32 per cent in 2011 from the same period last year, climbing to $1.3 billion, growth the company attributes to strong new equipment sales in all operation and record revenues from product support.
Finning raised its quarterly dividend for shareholders by 8 per cent, which they said reflects management's expectation for strong growth and increased confidence.
While Pickthall recalled the tone of the negotiations as polite and professional he said both parties were unable to bridge differences on the bargaining table.
Workers were in a position to walk off the job on Monday at 2 p.m. following the expiration of their 72-hour strike notice. Finning countered the move with a lockout notice, which Pickthall explained didn't have much effect on negotiations.
Pickthall maintains the bargaining team will make themselves available for negotiations with management, but warned the strike will continue until Finning tables a "reasonable offer."
Vancouver-based Finning is the world's largest Caterpillar dealer, and sells, rents and services equipment and engines. It has operations in Canada, South America and Europe.
Finning's Corporate Communications Officer told the Alaska Highway News that he wasn't comfortable getting into the nitty gritty of the company's offer to employees but said the company considered it to be fair.
He noted Finning has been in negotiations with the union since the last contract expired in April of this year.
"It's been a long period of negotiations and we thought the offer we made was fair to the company and employees," said Howard.
Howard wouldn't say if management had taken the last zero-zero contract into consideration during negotiations or whether or not their recent record profits played a part in the offer.
As for Finning customers, Howard said management and salary workers are still available to assist clients with any problems they might have.
"Obviously they will feel the impact of the strike in terms of the mechanics but we are still able to serve our customers," said Howard.