B.C. Longshore Union Leaders, Employers Agree to New Contract

After a 13-day strike that suspended cargo movement in British Columbia, longshore workers returned to the waterfront in mid-July following a tentative four-year agreement. However, as of press time, the deal had yet to be ratified.

The British Columbia Maritime Employers Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada agreed to the deal on July 13, but rank and file members voted the proposal down on July 28, thereby putting the agreement in jeopardy.

As of Aug. 2, leaders of ILWU Canada were recommending that its 7,400 members approve the tentative new deal. However, when this issue went to press, details of the contract had not been made public, nor had the pact been ratified by the union.

However, a message posted on the union’s website stated that a vote on the contract was scheduled to take place Aug. 3-4.

The ILWU and BCMEA had been in contract talks since February. The longshore union was particularly focused on three main objectives—protections from contracting out work, automation and high inflation, along with cost-of-living issues.

“Our members’ families are facing spiraling food bills, housing costs and interest rates,” ILWU Canada President Rob Ashton said in a July 6 statement. “All we’re asking from employers is to share some of the wealth our labor is creating for them through a fair, reasonable increase in wages, and to ensure our members can continue to do that work with respect and dignity.”

The BCMEA, for its part, had said that a sticking point in negotiations was the union’s attempt to include work currently outside its jurisdiction.

“ILWU Canada is attempting to aggressively expand their scope and re-define Regular Maintenance Work far beyond what is set out in the industry-wide agreement, which has been legally well established for decades,” the employers’ group said.

“Changing this definition,” the BCMEA added, “would result in immediate and significant impacts to terminal operations.”

The previous contract expired March 31, but labor continued to work until negotiations broke down, leading to the July 1 strike. 

After the announcement of a tentative deal, O’Regan and Canada’s Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra, said that the scale of the disruption was significant.

“The extent of it has shown just how important the relationship between industry and labor is to our national interest,” according to the joint statement. “Our supply chains and our economy depend on it.”

“We do not want to be back here again,” the statement continued. “Deals like this, made between parties at the collective bargaining table, are the best way to prevent that. They are the best way to preserve the long-term stability of Canada’s economy.”

The agreement came four days after members of the ILWU who work at U.S. ports said that they wouldn’t work vessels that were diverted to America during the strike.

“The ILWU will not be unloading Canadian-bound cargo in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in ILWU Canada,” ILWU U.S. President Willie Adams said at the time.

“I promise you: not one ship that leaves here (in Vancouver) will get worked on in Southern California,” ILWU Local 13 President Gary Herrera told assembled strikers on July 9.

That promise may have spurred the employers to hammer out the labor agreement.