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B.C. port union issues 72-hour strike notice affecting 7,400 workers

The union representing port workers in British Columbia has issued a 72-hour strike notice and its members are ready to take job action Saturday.

The union representing port workers in British Columbia has issued a 72-hour strike notice and its members are ready to take job action Saturday.

The strike notice affects about 7,400 terminal cargo loaders and 49 of the province’s waterfront employers at more than 30 B.C. ports.

Negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada and the BC Maritime Employers Association started in February in an attempt to reach an agreement before their contract expired at the end of March.

Both sides had been in a cooling-off period but that ended on June 21.

Union members voted 99.24 per cent in favour of strike action earlier this month.

The union said in a statement Wednesday that contracting out, port automation and cost of living are key issues in the dispute.

“Longshore workers kept this province and the country running during the pandemic, and when Canadians were told to shelter in place, our people went to work,’ the statement said.

“We worked in difficult and hazardous conditions to ensure that the communities where we live, and all Canadians, had the necessary supplies and personal protective equipment to defend against the COVID 19 virus.”

The union said management continues to demand concessions.

The Maritime Employers Association has not commented on the strike notice, but said in a statement Tuesday that both sides continue to meet with the assistance of a federal mediator and that bargaining was expected to go into next week.

Philip Davies, a transportation economist and principal of Davies Transportation Consulting Inc. in Vancouver, said agreements between maritime employers and port workers are typically long-term deals that involve “pretty hard bargaining.”

Davies said the union has several options short of full strike action to disrupt port operations in the event negotiations are unsuccessful.

“They can disrupt operations at a single terminal or they could not dispatch enough labour for a single shift,” Davies said. “But then of course the response by the employers can be a lock out of the union and the terminals shut down, and so either of those things, any of those things are possible.”

“It is, shall we say, a tactical and strategic game,” he said.

Davies said the union’s counterparts on the U.S. West Coast just reached a rather generous deal, and hard bargaining tactics aren’t uncommon when seeking multi-year deals.

“Over the pandemic the shipping lines were making huge profits and I think the longshoremen certainly felt that they should share in that bounty,” he said.

On the Canadian front, as negotiations continue leading up to possible strike action this weekend, Davies said dock workers on both sides of the border know the vital role they play in the “marine transport ecosystem” as they seek a collective agreement.

“The longshoremen want to make sure they’re covered for all eventualities,” he said.