More than 7,400 dockworkers represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in Canada went on strike Saturday after negotiations with the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) failed to reach a new labor contract. 

The strike threatens to disrupt container traffic at two of Canada’s busiest ports in Vancouver and Prince Rupert, key export gateways for the country.

The union’s strike was officially announced Saturday in a Facebook post by ILWU President Rob Ashton. ILWU Canada has been negotiating for wage increases, an end to contracting out and job protection against the effects of automation.

“During the pandemic, longshore workers put themselves on the front lines to make sure that the people of British Columbia and all their families and all Canadians have the necessary goods and supplies when all other Canadians were asked to stay home to stay safe,” Ashton said during a news conference on Sunday. “We were called heroes at that time and our employers gorged themselves on record profits. But now they seem to have forgotten the sacrifices our people made.”

Contract talks between ILWU Canada and BCMEA have been ongoing since February in an attempt to renew the industrywide collective agreement, which expired March 31.

On Sunday, Ashton said negotiations are still ongoing.

“I was in hopes that sometime today or even earlier, we’d be coming with a better announcement, but we do not have one,” Ashton said. “We’re here until the end. We do not plan to leave the bargaining table. We expect the BCMEA [to be here] all day, all night, until a deal is done so our people can go back to work with a fair negotiated deal for all of us.”

The BCMEA posted on its website that contract negotiations were being paused on Sunday night after 33 consecutive hours of negotiations.

“The committee intends to reconvene bargaining [Monday] morning, providing an opportunity for both parties to recharge and re-energize in the interest of achieving a fair and balanced agreement as soon as possible,” BCMEA said.

A prolonged strike could affect cargo traffic at the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, said Jasmin Guenette, vice president of national affairs at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

The CFIB is the country’s largest association of small and midsize businesses with 97,000 members across various industries and regions.

“A strike could have serious consequences for our economy and our small businesses,” Guenette said in a news release. “Port operations must remain fluid so as not to exacerbate supply chain disruptions and put further pressure on costs, at a time when we are still facing high inflation.”

The Port of Vancouver is the country’s largest commercial port, accounting for 3.6 million twenty-foot equivalent units in 2022. The Port of Prince Rupert, located in the Canadian province of British Columbia, recorded 24.6 million tons of cargo moving through its gates last year.

Officials at the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert did not immediately respond to a request for comment from FreightWaves.

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