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B.C. port workers vote to reject mediated agreement

The statement from the BCMEA revealed details about the rejected four-year package
Gantry cranes sit idle as a container ship is docked at port during a work stoppage, in Vancouver, on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Port workers in British Columbia have voted to reject a mediated contract offer, extending job action that prevented billions in goods from moving for almost two weeks earlier this month.

In a letter posted on the union’s website, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada President Rob Ashton says workers are now calling on their employers to “come to the table” and negotiate directly, instead of doing so through the BC Maritime Employers Association.

In a statement, the BCMEA says it is disappointed the four-year tentative agreement was rejected, calling it a “good deal that recognized the skills and efforts of B.C.’s waterfront workforce while providing certainty and stability for the future of Canada’s West Coast ports.”

“ILWU Canada’s inability to ratify a fair and balanced recommended tentative agreement has left Canadians, businesses and the entire supply chain in a perilous state that has cost billions and will further hurt affordability and increase costs for Canadians,” the statement reads. “Stability and certainty must be restored to Canada’s largest gateway.”

“The BCMEA awaits further direction from the federal government on the next steps.”

The statement from the BCMEA revealed details about the rejected four-year package. It says it included a wage increase of 19.2 per cent, a signing bonus of $1.48 per hour worked to be paid to each employee (equivalent to approximately $3,000 per full-time worker), and an 18.5 per cent increase to a Modernization and Mechanization retirement lump sum payment.

The BCMEA said this would increase their retirement payout in 2026 to $96,250 for eligible retiring employees, over and above employees’ pension entitlements. It added the 19.2 per cent wage increase would have potentially increased the median union longshore compensation from $136,000 to $162,000 annually, not including benefits and pension.

The deal also reportedly included measures to improve training, recruitment and retention of ILWU trades workers. The employers said specifically, the BCMEA agreed to provide benefit coverage for all casual trades workers, a new tool allowance, and a commitment to increase apprentices by a minimum of 15 per cent.

The rejection raises the prospect of back-to-work legislation to end the uncertainty at more than 30 port terminals and other sites, including Canada’s largest port in Vancouver.

The four-year agreement between the union and maritime employers went to a vote of about 7,400 workers on Thursday and Friday, after union leaders presented the deal to local chapters on Tuesday.

The deal worked out with federal mediators had put a temporary halt to a 13-day strike that had commenced July 1, but its fate see-sawed wildly as the union leadership then rejected it and tried to go back to picket lines.

When that was deemed illegal by the Canada Industrial Relations Board, the union submitted a new 72-hour strike notice, only to withdraw it hours later.

On July 20, the union announced it was recommending the deal and would put it to a full membership vote.

Its failure will give impetus to calls for the federal government to bring in back-to-work legislation, that came earlier from industry groups and politicians, including Alberta Premier Danielle Smith.

The earlier job action was serious enough that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened the government’s incident response group to discuss the matter, an occurrence typically reserved for moments of national crisis.

The Canadian Press

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