VANCOUVER — Longshore workers are set to strike at key Port of Vancouver container terminals on Monday morning, wreaking havoc on Canada’s Asia-Pacific gateway and causing economic harm across Canada.
Roughly two thousand workers “will commence strike action at GCT Deltaport and GCT Vanterm on May 27, 2019 at or about 7 a.m.,” reads the strike notice from Robert Ashton, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada to Eric Waltz, the president of Global Container Terminals Canada.
The letter, sent Thursday, was leaked to Postmedia News.
Deltaport is by far the largest container terminal of the four in Vancouver, Canada’s busiest port. If it and Vanterm on the Vancouver side of Burrard Inlet are shut down, it would cripple most of the port’s container traffic. And, depending on how the union’s picket lines are set up, other terminals could be affected.
The Port of Vancouver is Canada’s largest, and the third largest in North America by tonnes of cargo. It handles the bulk of Canada’s trade with Asia, including container terminals, grain terminals, coal terminals and a host of other facilities.
GCT Canada is one of several port employers which are part of the B.C. Maritime Employers Association, which bargains on their behalf. It has been negotiating a new contract with 6,000 waterfront workers, belonging mostly to the ILWU Canada, since their contract expired in March 2018.
Jeff Scott, chair of the B.C. Maritime Employers Association, said he knew of the 72-hour strike notice, but did not know why the union is targeting GCT Canada and its two terminals.
“It is an unfortunate step,” Scott said. “We’re deeply concerned about the economic impact that a potential strike could have on the economic security of Canada, and the Canadian economy as a whole.”
In February 2011, before the last collective agreement was struck, an official at the employers’ association said a full-scale port strike would cost the Canadian economy $100 million a day. That number would be far higher today.
Union president Ashton said he had no comment, when contacted on Thursday night by Postmedia.
Ashton’s last public comment was on May 10, when he issued a news release stating the union had received a 98.4 per cent mandate from members “to take strike action if necessary to negotiate a new contract at ports throughout British Columbia.”
At that time, Ashton said talks with the B.C. Maritime Employers Association were scheduled to resume the week of May 21 and that the union remained “optimistic an agreement could be reached successfully without job action.”
In that release, Ashton indicated members were primarily concerned about job losses due to automation.
Scott said he could not reveal what the stumbling blocks were in the current negotiations. He said the association remained focused on reaching a new agreement “in the interest of all parties.”
The letter to GCT Canada was also forwarded to the federal Department of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour. Department officials could not be reached Thursday night. The federal government, rather than the province, has authority over labour relations at the port.
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.
The ILWU Canada has several bargaining locals in B.C. The two that represent workers at Vanterm and Deltaport are Local 500 and Local 502. Workers in Prince Rupert are represented by Local 505 and Local 508 on Vancouver Island. There are also negotiations underway with Local 514 that represents waterfront foremen.
In 2018, shipments through the Port of Vancouver’s four container terminals reached a record 3.4 million 20-foot-equivalent containers. In Vancouver, containers arrive filled with appliances, clothing and other consumer goods — including auto parts and manufactured goods — and leave containing mostly grain, lumber and food products. The Port of Vancouver expects to reach container capacity soon and is working to expand terminals.