Updated: Port employers to lock out union Friday

Union president was hopeful for return to bargaining

Members of the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) will lock out longshoremen in B.C. ports effective Thursday, May 30, the association said Tuesday, May 28.

“The BCMEA did not arrive at this decision lightly, as it followed significant discussion understanding the economic impact this will have on the Canadian economy,” the association said in a statement.

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The notice came only two days after the start of what the union called limited job action, which includes a ban on overtime.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) was ready for a full walkout at 7 a.m. Monday, but instead instituted a ban on overtime and other actions without picket lines at Global Container Terminals’ GCT Vanterm and GCT Deltaport facilities in the Vancouver area.

The association said a negotiated settlement is preferred and committed to being available to meet with federal mediators.

ILWU president Rob Ashton said prior to the lockout announcement that he hoped to return to bargaining by week’s end.

Association chair Jeff Scott said the lockout choice was a difficult one after 17 months of bargaining.

“Our preference remains to resolve this at the bargaining table without disruption; however, as a result of the recent and significant disruptions caused by ILWU-Canada’s work-to-rule job action, we can no longer effectively and safely operate the impacted terminals. This has already caused cargo diversion from the B.C. coast and threatens further loss of cargo.”

This lockout will not include cruise ship operations or employees required to service grain vessels.

Scott has said that limited action was initially an overtime ban but has evolved into slowdowns in work such as vehicle movements or the fuelling of vehicles.

Ashton refutes that. He said his members are obeying generally unenforced speed limits and stop signs at facilities.

Ashton said the ILWU team had remained at the negotiating table until 4 a.m. Monday morning.

ILWU members voted 98.4% in favour of striking against association members several weeks ago.

The previous eight-year deal between the two sides expired in March 2018, but contract negotiations have spilled over into 2019 and were continuing into the weekend.

The employers' association comprises 55 ship owners and agents, stevedores and container, bulk and break terminal operators in ports from Victoria to the Alaska border.

Ashton has said the goal is to keep ports open as a new contract is pursued. The previous eight-year deal between the two sides expired in March 2018.

The ILWU president is concerned about automation at port facilities. He said that threatens more jobs in the long term than a short-term labour dispute would.

Ashton used the example of the port city of Prince Rupert with a population of about 12,000. He said the cutting of hundreds of jobs through automation would seriously harm a town that has already suffered through forestry and fishing downturns.

“Automation does not grow business,” he said. “What it does is ruin the working class environment.”

The Port of Vancouver saw a nine-day lockout in 1999, a one-day strike in 1998 and another strike in 1995. In 2005, truckers withdrew services for six weeks.

Cargo handled via Canadian ports along the west coast grew faster than it did through their American counterparts between 2017 and 2018.

Vancouver realized a 3% increase in the number of 20-foot-equivalent units (TEUs) moved through its facilities in 2018: 3,396,449 compared with 3,252,220 in 2017.

Total tonnage was up 3.5% to 147 million metric tonnes (MMT) from 142 MMT. Between 2016 and 2017, TEUs rose 11% and tonnage increased 5%.

Prince Rupert’s container cargo jumped 12% to 1,036,009 TEUs last year from 926,539 in 2017.

All other Prince Rupert terminals combined realized a 10% increase, with 26.67 MMT moved compared with 24.17 MMT in 2017.

When a labour dispute disrupted U.S. West Coast ports three years ago, those ports saw some departures of cargos to other ports – including Vancouver and Prince Rupert.

That dispute wound up in July 2017 when the U.S. ILWU signed a three-year extension of its contract with the Pacific Maritime Association.

jhainsworth@glaciermedia.ca

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