Longshore workers at B.C. ports are set to go on strike at 8 a.m. July 1, unless the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU Canada) and British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) find common ground.
A 72-hour strike notice was issued June 28, after 99.24% of ILWU Canada members supported the action in a vote earlier this month. A strike would affect over 7,500 employees across at least 30 B.C. ports including the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, and 49 private-sector employers that are BCMEA members.
“Unfortunately, the ILWU Canada bargaining committee has run out [of] options at the bargaining table because the BCMEA and their member employers have refused to negotiate on the main issues, and we feel we are left with no choice but to take the next step in the process,” union president Rob Ashton said in a statement.
The union is fighting against contracted work and port automation, and wants a deal that helps members offset rising inflation.
The contract between the BCMEA and ILWC expired at the end of March 2023. Collective bargaining began in February, and continued until the two sides entered a cooling-off period that ended a week before the strike notice.
“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,” said Ashton.
Ministers call for return to bargaining
Canada’s Minister of Labour Seamus O’Regan and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a joint statement yesterday they strongly encourage both 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,” they said.
Port of Vancouver said in an email to TruckNews.com that it hopes the issue can be resolved quickly to avoid significant impacts on port operations.
“While we can’t speculate on what the specific impacts may be, $1 of every $3 of Canada’s trade in goods outside of North America moves through the Port of Vancouver, so any disruption to port operations has a significant impact globally and on Canadians who rely on the businesses that import and export goods through the port for employment and for reliable access to the products that support each of us every day.”
The Prince Rupert Port Authority also encourages the BCMEA and ILWU to continue negotiating in good faith.
“Canada’s West Coast trade depends on an outcome that keeps goods moving through its ports, and we’re optimistic that the ILWU and their employers can reach a timely agreement that accomplishes that,” it said in a statement.
BCTA joins call for federal help
Last week, the British Columbia Trucking Association (BCTA) was one of more than 120 business groups that wrote to federal ministers calling on the government to prevent a labor dispute.
The negotiations between ILWU Canada and BCMEA are followed in the U.S. as well.
Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), responded to the strike announcement earlier today, calling it ‘unwelcome news for the U.S. economy’, as the global supply chain enters peak shipping season.
“This is a serious situation that demands serious leadership and shows what’s at stake as the Senate considers our next secretary of labor,” he said. “Julie Su has consistently dodged important and straightforward questions on numerous issues, and her evasiveness raises major red flags as ongoing labour disputes here at home threaten supply chain continuity and the freight services that American consumers depend on every single day.”
ATA has been disputing Julie Su’s nomination for U.S. labor secretary, citing her role in California’s AB-5 labor law.
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