Skip to content

B.C. port workers ratify deal, ends months-long labour dispute

British Columbia’s port workers have voted almost 75 per cent in favour of accepting a contract offer
Gantry cranes sit idle as a container ship is docked at port during a work stoppage, in Vancouver, on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. Voting among British Columbia port workers on a new agreement with employers is scheduled to conclude today, with the result deciding whether the months-long labour dispute will end or continue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

British Columbia’s port workers have voted almost 75 per cent in favour of accepting a contract offer, ending weeks of turbulent job action that stopped billions of dollars’ worth of goods from being shipped.

In a statement on the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada website, president Rob Ashton says the results of the latest ratification vote came in 74.66 per cent in favour of the agreement.

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan confirmed in a tweet that both the ILWU and the BC Maritime Employers Association have ratified the deal, ending the dispute.

O’Regan says, however, that he is directing federal officials to review the entire case to avoid a port disruption of this magnitude from happening in the future.

The employers association says in a statement that it ratified the four-year deal, which “includes increases in wages, benefits and training that recognizes the skills and efforts of B.C.’s waterfront workforce,” on Monday.

No further details of the agreement have been announced.

The results come after two days of voting this week by full union membership, following the union and employers jointly announcing a tentative agreement last Sunday night.

The approval of the contract, which covers about 7,400 workers, comes after the union rejected a mediated settlement twice in July — once through the group’s leadership caucus, another by full membership.

The last full membership vote rejecting a deal on July 28 led to O’Regan directing the Canada Industrial Relations Board to assess if a negotiated deal was still possible, and if not, the board was directed to impose a new deal or binding arbitration.

The union and the employers met with the help of a mediator from the board last Sunday and came to the agreement, and the employers and union leadership agreed to recommend the settlement to their memberships.

The subsequent decision issued by the board reminded union local presidents that if they changed their position and didn’t support the deal after originally agreeing, it could be considered unfair labour practice.

The board gave the union until Friday to complete the ratification vote and ordered both sides not to speak with the media.

The latest vote follows a chaotic five weeks at the port, starting on Canada Day with a 13-day strike, that froze billions worth of goods at more than 30 B.C. port terminals and other related sites.

On July 13, O’Regan announced that “the strike is over,” with the union and employers accepting terms of a settlement from federal mediators and work resumed at the ports.

On July 18, the union said its leadership caucus rejected the mediated settlement, sending workers pack to pickets lines again.

The industrial relations board then ruled the strike was illegal without 72-hour notice.

On July 19, workers returned on the job while the union filed a notice to strike, only to pull it hours later.

Instead, the union announced it would put the contract offer to a full-membership vote, leading to the last rejection on July 28.

The employers had said the previous, rejected four-year deal included a pay increase that would have bumped the median wage for a union longshore worker from $136,000 to $162,000 annually, as well as a signing bonus amounting to about $3,000 per full-time worker.

It’s unclear if those changes remained in the latest contract.

The on-again-off-again dispute spurred several business groups and political leaders, including Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, to call for back-to-work legislation.

Bridgitte Anderson, president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade and one of the officials who called for a legislated end to the dispute, says in a statement that businesses across the country “are breathing a sigh of relief.”

“It took unexpected and extraordinary tools to facilitate an end to the disruption,” Anderson says. “Moving forward, the federal government needs to expand its options for addressing labour disruptions that impact the national economy and supply chains.”

The union workers have been without a collective agreement since the last deal expired on March 31.

Both sides have been negotiating since February, with the main points of contention being the protection of workers’ jobs against automation and the increasing contracting out of maintenance work to third parties.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.