Pickets surround General Motors Place, home to Vancouver Canucks

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Hockey fans heading to Friday night’s NHL contest between the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings at General Motors Place will have to stickhandle around a picket line.

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

Unite Here local 40 spokeswoman Michelle Travis says 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,” she said.

Most union members are currently paid between $10 and $11 per hour, Travis said, adding that 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 will not stop spectators from entering GM Place but they will ask hockey fans to boycott concessions staffed by Aramark managers.

Talks between the two sides collapsed Thursday night.

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The strike action is, as of yet, expected to last just one day, though Travis said the union will determine its next steps this 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, said fans can expect to be inconvenienced Friday night.

“We are asking our fans to be patient, to be understanding. I think at the end of the day the most important thing is that the game goes on and that the Canucks perform well but it will be an inconvenience,” he said.

Jones said arena restaurants will be closed and that the main concourse will have about 20 stations open that will sell beverages and pre-packaged food items.

He 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 wasn’t immediately available to 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.