B.C. ports, union take week to ponder proposals

(Resource News International) — Representatives for unionized ship and dock workers at West Coast ports and for the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) have agreed to a week-long break from labour negotiations, so each can consider the other party’s latest proposal.

Greg Vurdela, BCMEA’s vice-president of marketing and information services, said the parties met Friday with the help of a federally-appointed mediator to exchange their latest contract proposals and have agreed to meet again Jan. 23.

Representatives for Local 514 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of Canada (ILWU) and the BCMEA have been in negotiations since April, trying to agree on new contract terms for the local’s roughly 450 members. Their old contracts expired in March.

Tensions between the two sides rose a notch in December when both sides entered a 21-day “cooling off” period, at the end of which the union threatened to strike.

Since then, however, neither a strike nor lockout notice has been issued. Officials have indicated neither option is likely as long as progress is being made in the contract negotiations.

If Local 514 were to strike, it’s expected that more than 5,000 other ILWU members would add their support to the strike by joining the picket line, disrupting traffic at B.C.’s Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert ports.

Meanwhile, truckers who haul containers at Vancouver have also threatened to strike unless their employers are able to reach a new contract agreement with their union, the Vancouver Container Truck Association/ Canadian Auto Workers (VCAT/CAW).

They are calling for stricter enforcement of previously set pay rates and for a moratorium on the use of passes which allow drivers to enter the port. The union’s owner-operators say they are losing work because the passes are only being issued for company-owned vehicles.

A strike by either VCTA/CAW or ILWU, or a lockout by the employers, would disrupt container traffic at some of Canada’s busiest international gateways. The impact would have serious implications for exporters of specialty crops, which move by container. Bulk grain movement, meanwhile, would continue in the event of a strike.

Concerns about a major port disruption have been compounded by a decision in December by Governor General Michaelle Jean to temporarily suspend Canada’s Parliament. With the House of Commons only scheduled to re-open Jan. 27, unionized workers could not be legislated back to work until then.

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