ILWU vote clears way for B.C. port workers strike

Results of May 8 and 9 ILWU Canada vote show 98% in favour of a strike to secure a new contract with BC Maritime Employers Association companies

Vancouver longshore dispatch hall. ILWU Canada members have voted 98.4% in favour of a strike to secure a new contract with BC Maritime Employers Association companies. Chung Chow

Members of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU) have voted overwhelmingly to strike against the member companies of the BC Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) in the union’s bid to secure a new contract.

The previous eight-year deal between the two sides expired in March 2018, and while contract negotiations have continued into 2019, Locals 502 and 500 of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada held strike votes on May 8 and 9. The results showed 98.4% of the 6,000-member ILWU membership in favour of strike action.

Any disruption in goods movement through B.C. ports would erode the province’s reputation in the highly competitive global shipping sector for reliability gained during the previous eight-year deal.

Pressure to avoid a shutdown of port terminals in B.C. has also been heightened by the successful negotiation of long-term labour agreements between port employers and maritime employs in the United States.

In July 2017, the U.S. International Longshore and Warehouse Union signed a three-year extension of its contract with the Pacific Maritime Association. The original collective agreement ended a standoff that stalled cargo movement through major West Coast U.S. ports from mid-2014 through early 2015 and diverted some of that traffic north to the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert.

Meanwhile, in September 2018, the International Longshoremen’s Association ratified an agreement with the United States Maritime Alliance. The six-year contract helps ensure labour and port service stability at East Coast U.S. and Gulf of Mexico ports until 2024.

Jeff Scott, chairman of the BCMEA’s board of directors, said negotiations between the association and ILWU Canada are continuing with the help of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

He added that dates for further negotiations are being scheduled through May.

Scott, who is also the CEO of Fraser Surrey Docks LP, said  in an email to Business in Vancouver that “we are working hard at both bargaining tables to reach new agreements that best serve the interests of the people, business and customers that rely on B.C. ports.”

Lauren Chan, the BCMEA’s manager of communications and marketing, added that the union's strike vote does not mean job action is imminent at B.C. ports.

She said ILWU Canada would still need to exercise a mandate to strike within 60 days of receiving it from its membership. The union would also have to issue 72-hour strike notice.