Employers to lock out ILWU Canada members Thursday

Date: Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Source: American Shipper

Union president calls the move “a reckless, irresponsible and needless decision that will undermine the economy.”

The organization that negotiates labor contracts with Canadian longshoremen working at British Columbia ports, including Vancouver and Prince Rupert, said it gave notice Tuesday to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union – Canada of its intention to lock out longshoremen starting Thursday at 8 a.m.

The British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) said it was making the announcement “given the strike action that is occurring in the industry.” BCMEA and the ILWU have been trying to negotiate a new contract for one that expired in March 2018.

ILWU members overwhelming authorized a strike in a vote held May 8-9.

“This is a reckless, irresponsible and needless decision that will undermine the economy of B.C. and Canada,” said Rob Ashton, president of ILWU Canada, which represents 6,500 longshore workers in British Columbia.

The union has indicated automation is a major issue in the talks.

The ILWU said the lockout would affect workers at terminals handling containers and roll-on, roll-off cargo, but not those working at cruise terminals or grain elevators. Last year Vancouver handled about 3.4 million TEUs, making it Canada’s largest container port, while Prince Rupert handled 1 million TEUs. Both ports are major gateways for cargo moving into the U.S.

Bob Ballantyne, the president of the Freight Management Association of Canada, said a lockout “will be very serious.” Not only is Vancouver Canada’s largest port, he said, but BCMEA represents employers in ports up and down Canada’s West Coast, who handle a variety of products.

“It’s potentially very damaging to the Canadian economy,” he said. “I’ll be sending out a message to the Labor minister again this morning with copies to other ministers…there will be a strong outreach by a lot of organizations that will be impacted."

He also said there will be secondary effects that will impact railroads and could lead to containers being stranded in inland locations.

On Sunday the ILWU said it would take “limited and targeted job action Monday morning at GCT Deltaport and GCT Vanterm, but all ports will remain open; no picket lines will go up” and that contract talks would continue.   The two targeted container terminals are operated by GCT Global Container Terminals in the Port of Vancouver. A Global spokeswoman would not describe the extent of labor action, but referred questions to the BCMEA.

Jeff Scott, chair of the board of BCMEA, said the threatened lockout was “an extremely difficult conclusion to arrive at, following 17 months of bargaining, as the impact will be significant for the average Canadian who depends on the reliable flow of goods that move through our B.C. ports.

“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,” Scott said.

Ashton said Tuesday afternoon that the union was “shocked” by the BCMEA’s action, calling it “heavy-handed.” He said the union deliberately had taken a moderate approach, such as not working overtime and not reporting for work early.

He said the union wanted to keep cargo moving, recognizing the importance of British Columbia ports to Canada’s economy.

He was hopeful that an agreement might be reached in the next couple of days before the lockout takes effect and said ILWU would be available to meet with Canada’s Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service at noon on Wednesday and hoped the BCMEA negotiators also would be present.

BCMEA, which represents 55 waterfront employers, said it did not arrive at the decision to threaten a lockout “lightly, as it followed significant discussion understanding the economic impact this will have on the Canadian economy. Our preference still remains to arrive at a negotiated settlement between the parties and we continue to be committed and available to meet with Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) and ILWU – Canada to achieve this end.”

ILWU Canada said, “BCMEA’s notice follows the association’s decision to walk away from the bargaining table on Monday, leaving protracted contract negotiations that had been underway with the assistance of a mediator appointed by the federal government and after the ILWU Canada had announced its intention to take limited workplace actions that would allow the ports to continue normal operations.

“At issue in the contract discussions is the insistence of the BCMEA to unilaterally introduce technological changes in port operations without regard for the health of the B.C. economy and the communities that rely on this industry,” the union said. 

Ashton said, “The BCMEA would like the unlimited right to eliminate good jobs that support middle-class families. We believe that is not proper or fair for our members or the communities in which they live and work.” 

GCT Vanterm in downtown Vancouver announced plans on May 10 to invest $160 million to densify and modernize its facility and said the project would create about 1,200 direct and indirect jobs. A spokeswoman said that facility is a conventional terminal and not automated.

GCT Deltaport at Roberts Bank is a semi-automated terminal. In 2018 Global invested $300 million in new technology and infrastructure, creating a semi-automated intermodal railyard.

Global has proposed adding a fourth berth at GCT Deltaport, but the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority said in February that “expanding the existing Deltaport container terminal is not an option,” giving two main reasons:

• First, it said Fisheries and Oceans Canada has prohibited further land reclamation inland from the existing port and that Global was proposing a project that would have to be built almost entirely in a sensitive intertidal habitat. 

 • Second, the port said that “expanding Deltaport would mean one terminal operator would control a significant majority of the market for container terminal services. Healthy competition is necessary to ensure users continue to pay reasonable rates for reliable service. For this reason, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is committed to fostering an appropriate level of competition within the Port of Vancouver. This competitive environment is especially relevant for Canadian exporters who rely on the Vancouver gateway.”

In March, Global applied for a judicial review of the port authority’s decision, saying, “The VFPA relied upon its own immediate commercial interest in the decision and its desire to protect and enhance its own competing project to fund and build a second terminal at Roberts Bank ... considerations incompatible with its role as a federal board, commission or other tribunal.”


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