Longshore workers back away from full strike at Vancouver terminals

Longshore workers in Vancouver began a “limited job action” at two terminals, stopping short of a full-blown strike that would have seriously impacted operations at Canada’s busiest port.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU)-Canada announced late on May 26 that its members would take measures such as refusing to work overtime at Deltaport and Vanterm beginning on May 27. The union had previously issued a strike notice to the facilities’ owner, Global Container Terminals.

“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. Our goal is to keep the ports open with minimal disruption to trade,” ILWU-Canada President Rob Ashton said in a statement.

A strike at the two terminals could have rippled across supply chains in Canada. They account for 1.8 million twenty-foot-container-units of Vancouver’s capacity – more than half of what the port handled in 2018.

The ILWU is continuing federally mediated contract talks negotiations with the British Columbia Maritime Employers’ Association (BCMEA), which represents companies operating at the province’s ports. The last contract for British Columbia longshore workers expired in 2018.

“We remain optimistic that a fair deal can be achieved through the constitutionally protected bargaining process,” Ashton said.

The union said it is seeking a contract that addresses concerns related to automation at the ports “and the potential devastation to our communities.” Additional semi-automatic processes are being introduced to Deltaport, the largest terminal at Vancouver, to increase capacity.

This echoes fears by unions elsewhere that the efficiencies brought by automation will lead to job cuts. ILWU-Canada’s counterparts in the U.S. have resisted efforts by the Port of Los Angeles to add automated box handling.

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Nate Tabak, Canada Correspondent

Nate Tabak is a journalist, editor and producer in Toronto. He covers Canada for FreightWaves, with a keen interest on the cross-border economic relationship with the United States. Nate spent seven years working as an investigative editor and reporter based in Kosovo. He covered everything from corruption to the country’s emerging wine industry. He also reported across the Balkans and investigated Albania’s multibillion-dollar marijuana industry with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Nate grew up in Berkeley, Calif. He enjoys exploring Toronto with his wife and is always looking forward to his next meal.

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