UPDATED: B.C. port workers, maritime employers ratify new contract

International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada, BC Maritime Employers Association agree to new five-year deal

Longshore dispatch hall in Vancouver | Chung Chow

The BC Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU) have formally agreed to a new five-year collective agreement that has averted a possible lengthy disruption of cargo movement through B.C.’s ports.

The two sides formally announced ratification of the new collective agreement June 25.

The announcement follows the June 21 release of the ILWU’s 77.18% vote in favour of the new contract.

The tentative agreement was reached May 30 following an all-night bargaining session that ended a BCMEA lockout and the threat of a full-blown strike by ILWU members.

The four-day port labour dispute marked the climax in contract negotiations that had dragged on since the expiration of the previous eight-year deal at the end of March 2018.

The ILWU’s acceptance of the deal is good news for B.C. ports and Canada’s Asia Pacific Gateway and trade corridor at a time when transpacific trade growth is being slowed by the ongoing trade dispute between China and the United States and diplomatic tensions between Canada and China continue to rise over the Huawei affair.

See also: B.C. port workers vote to accept new contract

Pressure to reach an agreement between the BCMEA and 6,000-member ILWU intensified following the successful negotiation of new collective agreements between longshore unions and port employers 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.

Last September, the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) ratified an agreement with the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX). The six-year deal 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 board, said the association would have preferred to secure a deal with a longer term, but he told Business in Vancouver that “we think a five-year term adds the stability that we need in the gateway. Our first priority was to ensure that we didn’t have a work disruption and that the port remained open for business.”

He said overall wage and benefits modifications included in the contract would add roughly 14.6% to employment costs over the term of the contract. The provincial government’s employer health tax, which came into effect in January, adds approximately 2.5% to that total for maritime employers.

The introduction of terminal and other port automation was a key issue in the contract negotiations. 

“We believe fundamentally that [automation] improves efficiency, secures existing jobs and opens up employment opportunities,” Scott said. “And, for us, it was really about having the ability to continue to make  investments to keep us competitive.

To that end, he said, the contract allows for the formation of a new technology committee platform that allows representatives of port workers and employers to discuss any new incoming technology or innovation “about what that looks like, what that means and work together to look at the implications and minimize any impact.”

But it remains unclear what authority the committee would have over decisions on instituting any major automation infrastructure at a B.C. container terminal. 

The maritime employers group still needs to secure a deal with Local 514 Ship and Dock Foremen.

The BCMEA said it will be reaching out to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, which was key in brokering the ILWU deal, to arrange further meetings to resume bargaining with Local 514.

Scott said negotiations with Local 514 had been set aside for the past couple of months while the BCMEA and ILWU focused on reaching agreement on their contract.

With that contract concluded, Scott said, the BCMEA is “the parties can get back together relatively quickly to conclude  that agreement as well.”