The union representing 7,400 port and terminal workers in 29 ports in B.C. today gave notice it is prepared to begin a strike as of 8.00am PDT on July 1. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Canada issued a 72-hour strike notice after talks with the BC Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) for a new collective agreement remained deadlocked.
Though negotiations between the BCMEA and the ILWU are continuing with the help of a federal mediator, the looming work stoppage could have a significant impact on shippers depending notably on the region’s major Pacific gateway ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert.
The two sides have been in negotiations since February. ILWU (Canada) has been without a contract since the end of March. There was a cooling-off period, it ended on June 21.
“The Union is seeking a fair deal that respects longshore workers, one that protects our jobs and our jurisdiction,” declared ILWU president Rob Ashton. “We are seeking recognition for the hard work and sacrifices that Longshore Workers made during the pandemic and the extraordinary work that Longshore Locals did in getting workers out to the terminals during the lockdowns.”
The ILWU indicated its main objectives are to stop the erosion of work through contracting out, to protect current and future generations from “the devastating impacts” of port automation, and to protect longshore workers from record high Inflation and sky rocketing Cost of Living.
“But the employers and their bargaining agent, the BCMEA have repaid our hard work and dedication with demands for major concessions. Their only objective is to take away rights and conditions from longshore workers after having gorged themselves on record profits during the pandemic,” the ILWU alleged.
In response, the BCMEA stated that its bargaining committee “has advanced multiple proposals and positions in good faith, with the objective of making progress and achieving a fair deal at the table. Despite today’s regrettable development, we remain ready to re-engage with our labour partners through the federal mediation process, with the desire of reaching a fair and balanced deal at the table that keeps our ports stable and goods flowing for Canadians.”
The maritime employers’ association added that it continues to be open to any solution that “brings both parties to a balanced agreement. That includes voluntarily entering a mediation-arbitration process shaped by the parties that encourages continued dialogue and negotiations and only, if necessary, provides for a binding outcome via interest arbitration. So far, ILWU Canada has declined this binding mediation & arbitration proposal.”
The BCMEA said a potential strike will not affect port employees required to service grain ships. It added that it also intends to ensure that cruise ships will continue to be serviced.
In Ottawa, Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Labour, and Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport, urged “the parties to get back to the bargaining table and work together to reach an agreement. Everyone — the employer, the union, the mediators, and the government — understands the urgency and what is at stake for Canadians and our supply chains. The parties are responsible for moving goods both nationally and internationally, and industries and consumers would feel the effects of a work stoppage.
(Port of Vancouver photo)