Canada Ports Contract Talks Near Deadline

Canada Ports Contract Talks Near Deadline

Waterfront employers at Canada’s Pacific Coast ports and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada will resume contract negotiations next week as a potential strike deadline approaches at midnight Feb. 9.

ILWU Canada President Tom Dufresne said his members have already taken a strike authorization vote. Although he is not releasing the results of the vote, Dufresne said the intention of union negotiators is to avoid a shutdown if possible.

Negotiations between the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association and ILWU Canada have been underway since before the previous three-year contract expired on March 31, 2010. The negotiations cover contracts for foremen and general longshoremen at Port Metro Vancouver, Deltaport and Prince Rupert.

A number of issues remain to be addressed. Employers are seeking clarifications involving the assignment of labor, the use of technology and financial issues, said Andy Smith, president of the BCMEA.

Longshoremen oppose an attempt by employers to remove a supplementary retirement allowance in the pension program, and the union seeks language in the contract to ensure that employers do not use technology to move existing work away from ILWU Canda’s jurisdiction, Dufresne said.

A government mediator who was involved in the negotiations suggested a wage increase of 7 percent over 27 months. Dufresne said the union is prepared to accept that suggestion. Smith said negotiations have not reached the point of discussing the wage portion of the contract.

The parties this week are in a government-mandated cooling off period. If the union should decide to strike, it must give 72 hours advance notice when the cooling off period ends on Sunday. That means the earliest a shutdown of Canada’s Pacific Coast ports could occur would be at midnight on Feb. 9.

Smith said employers at this time believe a strike on Feb. 9 is unlikely.