Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have been negotiating with employers for 17 months to replace the contract that expired on March 31, 2018.
International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) locals in British Columbia are voting Wednesday and Thursday on whether to authorize a strike.
“ILWU’s Canada’s negotiating committee has authorized the ILWU Longshore locals to conduct a strike vote,” said a bulletin signed by Rob Ashton, the president of the Canadian division of the West Coast dockworkers union.
The website of the publication Business in Vancouver said ILWU members throughout the province, including dockworkers in the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, are taking part in the vote.
Rino Voci, president of the ILWU Local 500, one of several in the Vancouver area, urged his members to vote yes for the strike authorization, writing in a letter, “A strike vote is a common and useful part of the collective bargaining process and a strong mandate shows the employer that you are serious and that you fully support your negotiating committee.
“After more than 17 months since negotiations began, your negotiating committee needs your support more than ever to get a fair deal,” he wrote. “Voting yes to a strike does not mean you are voting to go on strike now. It means the union can go on strike in the next 60 days with 72 hours’ strike notice to the employer.”
Business in Vancouver said the ILWU Canada and the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) have been bargaining since early last year. Their eight-year collective agreement expired March 31, 2018. The contract covers about 6,000 workers in British Columbia.
In the BCMEA’s most recent annual report, then-President Terry Duggan noted the 2010 contract with the ILWU had resulted in eight years of labor peace. Duggan retired after 31 years of employment on April 1 and was replaced by Mike Leonard.
Jeff Scott, the president and chief executive officer of Fraser Surrey Docks and chairman of BCMEA, said negotiations are ongoing with the assistance of Canada’s Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
“We are looking at continuing to set up dates for future bargaining, he said.
In the annual report Scott wrote that “2018 was another record-setting year for the maritime industry in British Columbia. Once again we saw record cargo volumes throughout the province. As a result, labor hours in the province broke through another new milestone in 2018 with a record 9.1 million hours worked, up 4.36% from 2017.”
British Columbia ports have seen container volumes soar in the past decade. The Port of Vancouver moved 3.4 million TEUs in 2018 compared with 2.5 million in 2008; Prince Rupert container volumes climbed to just over 1 million TEUs last year from 181,894 TEUs in 2008.
Scott noted in the BCMEA annual report that “the unintended consequence of growth has been an exacerbation of challenges with labor availability and productivity. Resolving labor shortages and providing consistent levels of performance remain the top priority for the industry, and the BCMEA board of directors continues to work closely with our management team to ensure we are working through the improvement plans as quickly as possible.”