ILWU Canada Rejects Proposed Labor Contract and Resumes Port Strike

Port of Vancouver
Courtesy Port of Vancouver

Published Jul 18, 2023 10:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union's Canadian branch has rejected a labor contract settlement proprosal from a federal mediator, shutting down the nation's western ports for the second time in weeks. 

ILWU Canada's members walked off the job on July 1, hitting port operations up and down the B.C. coastline. The strike shut down cargo operations at the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, which are critical container-freight hubs for all of Canada. 

The primary points of disagreement are on wages and on the allocation of maintenance jobs. The ILWU claims that terminal operators are taking away their work by bringing in maintenance contractors, while the BC Maritime Employer's Association (BCMEA) contends that the union is attempting to expand its jurisdiction.

The strike continued alongside negotiations until July 12, when Canadian federal labor minister Seamus O’Regan stepped in and directed a government-appointed mediator to come up with a settlement proposal. The next morning, the ILWU and BCMEA announced a tentative agreement and said that work would resume immediately. Vancouver's terminals reopened the same afternoon, to the relief of businesses across western Canada and beyond. 

However, success may have been declared too soon. On July 18, ILWU Canada announced that its longshore caucus had rejected the proposed labor deal and would go back on strike. In a brief statement, the union said that it "does not believe the recommendations had the ability to protect our jobs" and did not go far enough to address cost of living increases. The length of time covered by the contract is also too long for the union, and it would prefer to renegotiate more often. Effective at 1630 hours Tuesday, the strike resumed.

The union's decision to walk away from the tentative deal drew condemnation from the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, the region's main business association. The board estimates that about US$8 billion worth of traded goods have been affected by port delays since labor action began on July 1, and that another US$600 million will be affected every additional day. 

“We are dismayed and disappointed that the mediated deal was rejected by the ILWU," said the group's president and CEO, Bridgitte Anderson. "In less than two weeks, business across Canada were facing shortages, temporary layoffs, and, in some cases, total shutdowns. The continuation of the strike will put these businesses at risk again."

The new shutdown has drawn renewed calls for the Canadian government to put an end to the strike, potentially through legislative action. The B.C. Chamber of Commerce called the dispute "untenable" and advocated for the use of "every resource" to bring a swift end to the dispute. The premier of Alberta, Danielle Smith, called for the government to "reconvene parliament and legislate these workers return to work."