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Union promises no disruptions at Vancouver container ports, for now

There were no pickets outside Vancouver’s two largest shipping- container terminals on Monday despite the start of job action.
A Helijet helicopter preparing to land at Vancouver Harbour passes by cranes used to load and unload container ships at the DP World marine terminal at Port Metro Vancouver.

There were no pickets outside Vancouver’s two largest shipping- container terminals on Monday despite the start of job action.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada issued a statement saying there would be “limited and targeted job action” on Monday, but no pickets.

“Our goal is to keep the ports open with minimal disruption to trade,” said union president Robert Ashton.

Last Thursday, the union gave notice to Global Container Terminals Canada that 2,000 workers at its Deltaport and VanTerm facilities in Vancouver would commence strike action on Monday “at or around 7 a.m.”

The ILWU Canada has been negotiating with the B.C. Maritime Employers Association since March, 2018, when their collective agreement expired. GCT Canada is one of several port employers which are part of the B.C. Maritime Employers Association. The negotiations cover 6,000 workers, however, the strike action is targeted at GCT.

Ashton said “contrary to comments made by employers to the media, all terminals will remain open for business and ILWU-Canada and its locals will not put up picket lines at this time.”

Jeff Scott, chairman of the B.C. Maritime Employers Association, said Sunday that the two sides had been negotiating over the weekend, and were planning to continue talks.

“We’ll work as long as it takes to try to avoid any disruption,” said Scott, adding he was unsure why the union had chosen strike action against only one employer in the association, that deals only in containers.

“They are one of the larger employers, but we are uncertain why they served it on one and not everyone,” he said.

The association also represents employers on Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert.

Scott said there were about 15 people involved in the bargaining, with a federal-government appointed mediator in between. The federal Department of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour mediator was appointed at the request of the union and employer group before the union’s 98.4 per cent strike vote was taken in early May.

The two jointly filed a notice of dispute on Jan. 25 and a conciliator was appointed Feb 9.

There was a 60 day conciliation period, followed by a 21 day cooling off period during which neither party could legally take any action. The mediator can stay in the process indefinitely, as long as both parties wish to continue bargaining.

In his statement, Ashton said the union was looking for a deal that addressed members’ “concerns over automation of the workplace and the potential devastation to our communities.”

“We made the difficult decision to exercise our constitutional right to engage in job action because all other means have failed to achieve an agreement,” said Ashton. “We remain optimistic that a fair deal can be achieved through the constitutionally protected bargaining process.”

Scott said both waterfront employee numbers and wages had increased over the last decade, while employers “continued to make investments in automation innovation through that time period.”

“We believe automation continues to be a key component in ensuring that jobs remain in Canada through ensuring we remain competitive. This port in particular doesn’t use some of the levels of automation in place in other ports and terminals around the world. But it gets reviewed and looked at on a regular basis,” he said.

Scott added there was a modernization clause in the collective agreement for at least two decades and the previous collective agreement had annual wage and benefit increases of 24 per cent over its eight-year term.

Scott said the employers association is committed to continuing talks and is hopeful, given the union’s decision to take job action.

“It’s significantly different than, obviously, a strike or a walkout so that is positive,” he said Monday.

Deltaport is the largest container terminal of the four in Vancouver, Canada’s busiest port. The Port of Vancouver is Canada’s largest, and the third largest in North America by tonnes of cargo.

There have been 12 labour disruptions at the Port of Vancouver since 1969. There was a nine-day lockout in 1999, a one-day strike in 1998 and another strike in 1995. This resulted in 175 days lost, not counting 2005, when truckers withdrew their services for six weeks.

In 2018, shipments through the Port of Vancouver’s four container terminals reached a record 3.4 million 20-foot-equivalent containers. The Port of Vancouver expects to reach container capacity soon and is working to expand terminals.

— With files from Canadian Press