Canadian and British Columbian workers are provided certain protections at law and expect certain things from their employers. For unionized workers, a union negotiates on behalf of its members to protect their interests during collective bargaining, and represents employees in disputes with their employer. However, when negotiations don't go well and one side or the other is dissatisfied, either side can take action in an attempt to increase their negotiating power: the workers by striking and the employer by instituting a lockout.
This scenario is currently playing out in the Vancouver area. The union for BCAA-ERS workers was negotiating a new contract on the workers' behalf. One of the sticking points is that the union is trying to establish wages for the ERS workers that are equal to what those who work for BCAA's car sharing company, and do similar work, make for a workweek that is five hours shorter.
When the union failed to make any headway it gave notice of limited job action. When the workers all violated the BCAA's dress code by wearing hats, the employer threatened a lockout which it then followed through on, suddenly asking employees to leave--some while mid-call with clients. With the 70 tow truck dispatchers unavailable to take customer calls, management is reportedly staffing the road assist emergency call centre.
How long situations such as this one generally last varies depending on the specifics of each situation. In this particular situation both sides have indicated that they would like to continue the bargaining process.
When a dispute such as this one erupts between a union and an employer many people can be impacted. Because of the nature of this type of dispute it is usually a good idea to engage the assistance of a labour relations lawyer to assist with the strategy, conduct, and management of the lockout or strike.