Canadian supply chains already at risk by B.C. ports strike

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The union and the employer's association managing B.C.'s ports appear far from reaching a deal as the strike which started July 1 poses another threat to the Canada's supply chains. PHOTO courtesy Port of Vancouver.

Strike action by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) which began July 1 has shut down operations at the vast majority of B.C.’s marine terminals, reports the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA).

The BCMEA says it’s ready to re-engage in negotiations “at a moment’s notice”, but tempers that with the statement “assuming that ILWU Canada is prepared to put forward a reasonable proposal.”

The BCMEA has accused the union of showing no interest in resuming negotiations. ILWU counters that it was the BCMEA that walked away from federal mediation.

“The Union delivered a message to the federal mediators that the Union will not walk away from negotiations, we are available every day, at any hour of the day. We expressed to the mediators our disappointment that the BCMEA had abandoned talks,” ILWU said in a release.

The collective agreements between the BCMEA and the ILWU Canada on behalf of the Longshore Locals and Local 514 Ship & Dock Foremen expired on March 31, 2023. And on June 28, 2023, the ILWU Canada informed the BC Maritime Employers Association of their intention to strike on July 1.

The two main unresolved issues are wage demands and the interest of the union to expand its control of labour involved in maintenance activities, as reported by the Freight Management Association in its newsletter to members.

It is reported that the ILWU members are responsible for “regular maintenance” over equipment directly used to move cargo, and they want to expand their involvement in the maintenance of other equipment not directly associated with handling cargo. 

The negotiations also included discussion on the use of outside contractors where qualified union members are not available. 

Under the current collective agreement, the ILWU exclusively supplies the labour force, however, it has been consistently unable to fulfill the trades work they have jurisdiction over, according to BCMEA.

“In the last year, there were significant shortages in key trades work. For example, in Vancouver, up to 25% of specific jobs were left unfilled as labour was not sufficiently supplied. On average, of the trades work that the ILWU Canada is exclusively entitled to supply in Vancouver, 17% of jobs went unfilled last year. This lack of labour supply has immediate impacts on terminal productivity as regular maintenance of cargo-moving equipment goes unaddressed and delayed,” the BCMEA says.

The ILWU counters that its jurisdiction in maintenance work has been “aggressively eroded” by members employers using 3rd party contractors.

“This is not an issue of cost for the direct employers because they already pay for this work to be done by maintenance contracting companies. In fact, using ILWU skilled trades employees will be more cost effective and will result in a higher quality of work because of their industry experience and competency,” the ILWU stated in a release. “Neither is this an issue of the Union being unable to supply skilled trades. It is an unwillingness of the employers to properly utilize our trades workers. We already have sufficient numbers of registered trades workers to meet the demands of the industry and we continue to recruit more.”

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