Union, employer reach tentative 4-year deal to end B.C. port strike

Union, employer reach tentative 4-year deal to end B.C. port strike

Employer says operations to resume Thursday afternoon

CBC News · Posted: Jul 13, 2023

Striking port workers gather at Vancouver’s Jack Poole Plaza for a rally on July 9. Workers have been on strike since July 1, halting cargo in and out of more than 30 B.C. ports. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns)

The 13-day B.C. port strike appears to be over after the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada and the B.C. Maritime Employers Association agreed to a tentative four-year deal on Thursday morning, both parties have confirmed.

According to a statement from the union, the agreement came just 10 minutes before the 10:30 a.m. PT deadline for reviewing recommended settlement terms from a federal mediator.

The B.C. Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) said work would begin again with Thursday’s 4:30 p.m. PT shift.

The agreement still needs to be ratified by both sides, therefore no details about the terms have been made public, according to a statement from the BCMEA.

“The BCMEA recognizes and regrets the significant impact this labour disruption has had on the economy, businesses, workers, customers, and, ultimately, all Canadians,” the statement said.

“We must collectively work together to not only restore cargo operations as quickly and safely as possible but to also rebuild the reputation of Canada’s largest gateway and ensure supply chain stability and resilience for the future.”

About 7,400 workers have been on strike since July 1, halting shipments in and out of about 30 ports in B.C., including Canada’s largest, the Port of Vancouver.

The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade says there are 63,000 shipping containers stuck on vessels waiting at B.C. ports to be unloaded, and that number may balloon to 245,000 if the strike persists to the end of July.

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra applauded news of the tentative deal, releasing a joint statement thanking both sides for negotiating.

“The scale of this disruption has been significant. The extent of it has shown just how important the relationship between industry and labour is to our national interest. We do not want to be back here again,” the ministers said.

O’Regan ordered a mediator to issue terms of a possible settlement earlier this week, saying the gap in the deadlocked talks was “not sufficient to justify a continued work stoppage.”

Striking B.C. port workers take down temporary shelters in Vancouver as they learn that a tentative agreement had been reached following a 13-day work stoppage. July 13, 2023. (Wildinette Paul/Radio-Canada)

Business groups have expressed relief at the news but say they want action to prevent similar disruptions in the future.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses issued a statement saying it will take months before supply chain backlogs caused by the strike are worked out. The organization called on the federal government to consider making ports an essential service before the next labour conflict.

Bridgitte Anderson, president of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, asked for Ottawa to “explore adding additional tools in their toolkit” for addressing future labour disputes.

“The 13-day strike has had a significant impact on Canada’s West Coast ports and the Canadian economy, disrupting an estimated $9.7 billion in trade,” Anderson said in a written statement.

Significant impact on shipping by rail

Canadian railways suffered a sharp drop-off in container shipments this month as the strike halted more than half of steel-box cargo.

Canadian National Railway Co.'s revenue ton miles — a key industry metric used to gauge income and freight volume — fell 60 per cent in the first week of the job action, according to RBC Dominion Securities analyst Walter Spracklin.

The figure dropped by 45 per cent at Canadian Pacific Kansas City Ltd.

The plunge left the number of containers hauled by Canadian railways last week at barely half the level it reached during the same period in 2022, according to the American Railroad Association.

The corrugated metal boxes, which carry everything from consumer products to auto parts, mark a critical source of cash for Canada’s two main railways, comprising roughly one-quarter of annual revenue.