Contract negotiations resumed this week in Vancouver between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada and the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association following a government-mandated cooling off period.
The contract covering longshoremen at Canada's Pacific Coast ports expired on March 31, 2010. The two-sides have engaged in a war of words lately, blaming each other for the impasse in negotiations.
Longshoremen last week voted overwhelmingly to approve a strike authorization should negotiations break down, but Tom Dufresne, the union's president, said ILWU Canada has no plans to strike at this time.
Dufresne accused the employers association of misleading the industry by saying a longshore strike could occur this week. "It is the height of irresponsibility for the BCMEA to make these comments, which will only create uncertainty, a circumstance the BCMEA claims to be trying to avoid," Dufresne said on the ILWU Canada Web site.
Negotiators last week held contract negotiations with the foremen's local, but those talks proved to be "unproductive," said Greg Vurdela, vice president of marketing and information technology at the BCMEA.
He added, however, that the resumption of general longshore contract negotiations this week is definitely a "step forward."
In addition to the traditional collective bargaining issues, employers seek to amend the Canada Labor Code to eliminate the use of a union strike or employer lockout and replace it with a mediation/arbitration process.
ILWU Canada said the proposed change would establish subjective criteria for the arbitrator to consider. Those criteria are outside of the usual scope of labor relations and would in effect curtail the rights of ILWU members to engage in free collective bargaining, the union said.
Vurdela countered that under the current process a breakdown in negotiations often leads to a government-mandated back to work order anyway, but during that process Canada's Pacific Coast ports experience cargo diversion and employers suffer a loss of revenue. This situation could be avoided by establishing a process for going directly into binding arbitration, he said.
ILWU Canada, citing a recent report by federal mediators, accused employers of focusing so much on their proposal for legislative change that contract negotiations have suffered. A report by the Canada Industrial Relations Board said the employers' legislative agenda has "overshadowed" the negotiations.
Meanwhile, the BCMEA said uncertainty over the waterfront negotiations is causing a diversion of cargo to U.S. West Coast ports. Vurdela said some carriers calling in Canada are already diverting at least half of their cargo to Seattle and Tacoma.
-- Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at email@example.com.