Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in British Columbia will vote on authorizing a strike, setting the stage for potential disruptions at the Ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert.
Longshore chapters of the ILWU will vote on May 8 and 9, according to a notice sent by the union’s national leadership. If it succeeds, union leadership will be able to initiate a strike during the following 60 days, with 72 hours notice.
ILWU represents about 2,700 longshore workers in British Columbia, including dockworkers at the Port of Vancouver, Canada’s largest port. The port had a record year in 2018, handling 147 metric tons of cargo and nearly 3.4 million 20-foot-equivalent units.
A collective bargaining agreement between the ILWU, and the British Columbia Maritime Employers’ Association, or BCMEA, which represents companies operating at the ports, expired in March 2018. The ILWU is hoping that an authorization to strike will put pressure on the port operators.
“A yes vote gives your Negotiating Committee the support it needs to bring us closer together to getting a new industry agreement deal without a strike,” ILWU Local 500 President Rino Voci wrote to members on May 3.
A federal mediator has been brought in to help CMEA and the union reach an agreement.
“We remain focused on reaching an agreement,” said Jeff Scott, chair of the board of directors at BCMEA and CEO of Fraser Surrey Docks. “We don’t believe a work stoppage to be beneficial to the industry. It would be significant for Canada and the economy as a whole.”
Both the ILWU and BCMEA would not disclose details on the points of contention in their talks. The ILWU and the BCMEA successfully agreed on the previous contract, in 2010, after the longshoremen voted to authorize a strike.
In April, the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA) wrote a letter to the Canadian Minister of Labor, Patricia Hajdu, urging the Canadian government to intervene in negotiations, highlighting the potential disruption to the supply chain that a strike could have.
“A stoppage of labor at this time will most certainly contribute to congestion, delays, increased costs and a growing sense of unreliability in Canada’s supply chains,” CIFFA executive director Bruce Rodgers and public affairs manager Julia Kuzeljevich wrote.
They noted that customers could be rerouted to the United States, resulting in permanently lost business.