A B.C. Supreme Court judge has dismissed an application by Vancouver Shipyards and Vancouver Drydock to prevent striking tugboat captains from setting up picket lines at the entrances to their operations in North Vancouver.
Justice George Macintosh delivered the ruling rejecting the companies’ request Tuesday (Sept. 27) morning in B.C. Supreme Court, following a hearing last week.
The decision means pickets can stay up at both the corner of McKeen and Pemberton avenues, outside of Vancouver Shipyards, and on Victory Ship Way, where the entrances to both Vancouver Drydock and Seaspan’s “W” building are located.
The pickets have effectively shut down work at both the shipyard and the dry dock for the past month after about 1,000 unionized workers there – who are not on strike themselves – refused to cross the picket lines set up by the Canadian Merchant Service Guild, representing striking tugboat captains and engineers.
That has brought work on two massive federal support ships and a Coast Guard science vessel to a halt.
The shipyard has also had to cancel or postpone repair work that had been scheduled at Vancouver Drydock.
In court documents, the companies had argued that while they are owned by the same parent corporation, the shipyard and dry dock are “completely separate from those of Seaspan.”
Pickets have been set up to deliberately hinder those operations, causing “economic loss” and “loss to the shipyards’ professional reputation,” the companies alleged.
In his ruling Tuesday, however, Macintosh said peaceful picketing at secondary sites which does not physically block access is protected under freedom of expression in Canada’s Constitution.
Macintosh also noted the close corporate relationships between the tugboat captains’ employer Seaspan ULC, and the shipyard and dry-dock companies.
“The point that emerges from that evidence is that while Seaspan and the guild have a separate collective agreement from those between Vancouver Shipyards and Vancouver Drydock and their unionized employees, it would be a mistake to conclude that the respective labour management relationships are wholly independent of one another, or that Seaspan has no hand in the labour management relationship,” he said.
Earlier this month, a different judge granted an injunction to prevent pickets at Victoria Shipyards’ Esquimalt Graving Dock, after the company argued that halting work on high-priority naval vessels, including the Royal Canadian Navy submarine Chicoutimi, at the site, presented serious safety, environmental and national security risks. About 800 workers at that shipyard walked off the job for two days before the order was made.
The labour dispute at the huge marine company began last month, when unionized tugboat captains walked off the job on Seaspan tugs over a contract bargaining dispute with the company.
The Canadian Merchant Service Guild represents ships’ captains and engineers who work on tugboats that help ships docking in the port as well as on barges throughout the south coast. Their contract expired in 2019.
Neither the Canadian Merchant Service Guild representing the striking tugboat crews or Seaspan has commented on what the sticking points are in the dispute.
In response to the ruling Tuesday, Seaspan issued a statement describing the current situation as "a challenging and difficult time for Seaspan.
"The five-week long labour dispute with the Canadian Merchant Service Guild continues to impact not only the Seaspan Marine Transportation team but also the broader Seaspan workforce," said Ali Hounsell, director of communications at Seaspan.
The company said it will continue to "pursue all avenues to minimize impacts to our customers and the broader industry."