Inside Logistics

Port workers still on the job in B.C., despite lockout, union says

Union boss says if they wanted to close B.C.'s ports that would have been done when their strike notice expired on Monday

May 29, 2019
by The Canadian Press (CPSTF)

VANCOUVER – A lockout notice issued by the group representing over 50 waterfront employers in British Columbia will take effect Thursday, but the union’s president says his members are committed to keeping the ports open.

Rob Ashton of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said if they wanted to close B.C.’s ports, from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, that would have been done when their strike notice expired on Monday.

“We don’t want to drag the people of B.C., and honestly, the people of Canada, because that’s who we affect, into this dispute. We don’t want to bring the government into it, because they don’t need to be in it,” Ashton said in an interview Wednesday.

Strike notice issued by the union covered only the DeltaPort and VanTerm terminals in Metro Vancouver and that notice was minimized Sunday to an overtime ban for about 2,000 workers at those terminals.

Jeff Scott, chairman of the B.C. Maritime Employers Association, which bargains on behalf of terminal operators for ports in Vancouver, New Westminster, Prince Rupert, Stewart and on Vancouver Island, said Tuesday that the overtime ban had escalated to work stoppages.

Terminals could no longer operate efficiently, Scott said, so the decision was made to issue lockout notice affecting about 7,000 workers and every seaport in B.C.

The potential widespread financial impact amounts to about $5 billion a day across Canada, Scott said.

Ashton said the notice does not cover B.C.’s grain or cruise ship terminals.

But he said the broad lockout notice was “shocking,” and came without warning after talks had stalled, although the union wasn’t prepared to abandon mediated sessions.

“We are going to show up at federal mediation today, I believe the employer is coming as well, because we’ve got a job to do. And that job is to negotiate a free collective agreement that is fair for the members of the ILWU as well as for members of the association.”

Automation is a key sticking point in negotiations and Scott said improved automation will protect jobs.

“In the last 10 years we’ve been continually investing in automation and technology and during those years the overall hours have increased by 52 per cent and the total workforce has increased by 34 per cent,” he said.

Ashton disagreed, saying automation “decimates” terminals, particularly container terminals.

He said he’s hopeful the federal government will not impose an agreement but will respond in the same way it handled last year’s job action at CP Rail, by urging the two sides to co-operate.

“That’s what we’re hoping for, is the government to say ‘figure it out, get it done,’ ” he said. “And that’s what the longshore bargaining committee plans to do. Get it done.”

He said he had packed his suitcase and a toothbrush, in the hope Wednesday’s meeting developed into progressive talks.

The union has been without a contract for 17 months and a federal mediator has been involved in the talks since February.