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Short-lived strike over after Seaspan Ferries, union reach agreement

Seaspan’s cargo ferries bring an estimated 50 per cent of goods to Vancouver Island, transporting everything from groceries to building materials.
Seaspan's cargo ferry, the Swift, carries drop trailers full of goods to Vancouver Island in 2017. TIMES COLONIST

A short-lived strike which threatened to disrupt Seaspan Ferries’ delivery of supplies to Vancouver Island has been called off after the company and unionized workers reached a tentative agreement for a new contract.

The job disruption only lasted a few minutes on Friday afternoon, a Seaspan official said.

The agreement averts disruptions in supplies arriving on the Island. About 50 per cent of consumer goods coming to the Island are delivered by Seaspan through Duke Point in Nanaimo and Swartz Bay on the Saanich Peninsula.

Sailings were halted in the late morning Friday and truck drivers turned away. With a tentative deal reached, cargo ferries were scheduled to resume Friday evening and continue running through the weekend, Seaspan said in a statement.

Seaspan expects to be fully operational and back to its full sailing schedule on Monday.

Details of the agreement were not released. The proposal is going to union members for a vote, Seaspan said.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Merchant Service Guild, representing Seaspan workers, could not be reached.

Talks began in January 2021 and had involved provincial mediators.

The union was in a legal position to strike at 3 p.m. on Friday. It announced on its website shortly before that time that it was on strike, leading Seaspan to cancel service.

The collective agreement between the Guild and Seaspan filed with the B.C. Labour Relations Board shows the most recent agreement ran for seven years, from Oct. 1, 2013 to Sept. 30, 2020. The 39-page agreement provided for annual wage increases of two per cent.

Had the strike gone ahead, Seaspan would have been restricted to 30 per cent of its carrying capacity, the company told customers Thursday. That service level was set under an essential service order issued by the B.C. Labour Relations Board.

This would mean North Vancouver-based Seaspan would be allowed to operate one daily return, sailing from Tilbury in Delta to Swartz Bay, and one daily return sailing, from Tilbury to Duke Point, seven days a week. It could also run one return sailing from Surrey to Duke Point six days a week.

Brandon Peters, of Ray Peters Trucking in Chemainus, said Thursday that a strike would “affect all of us, that’s for sure. Even though we’re all competitors with each other. It’s going to be massive to all of us. So, yeah, we’re panicking and hoping it gets resolved immediately.”

The family company ships about 40 trailers per day on Seaspan, representing about 90 per cent of the company’s work, he said.

Ray Peters Trucking ships a lot of building materials such as steel, lumber and cement.

In the event of a strike, Peters expects B.C. Ferries would not be able to handle the volume of traffic needing its services. B.C. Ferries has been cancelling some sailings recently because of staff shortages.

It is unclear how B.C. Ferries would address a strike at Seaspan. The company did not respond with a comment on Thursday.

At Penta Transport Ltd. of Nanaimo, Kendra Slawson, logistics co-ordinator, was frustrated that Seaspan did not notify customers earlier than Thursday morning that there could be service cutbacks. She said she was in a “bit of a panic mode.”

Slawson anticipates that Seaspan ferries would be carrying groceries and fuel rather than other materials during a strike.

Penta spends just under $2 million with Seaspan annually, shipping 20 or more loads back and forth per day, she said.

“It’s an integral part of our business.”

The trailers, mainly carrying building materials and other items such as pools and hot tubs, head to building sites where crews are waiting for them, Slawson said. The company delivers to the Trans Mountain pipeline project in Burnaby and SkyTrain work as well.

Slawson said she tried to speak to someone at Seaspan on Thursday, but was unsuccessful.

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