B.C. port strike disrupted $6.5 billion of cargo movement, say supply chain experts

About 7,400 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Canada halted 'critical shipments' for nearly 30 ports along the west coast.

 B.C. port strike disrupted $6.5 billion of cargo movement, say supply chain experts
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After striking down a costly 13-day strike in B.C., Trudeau's labour minister told reporters he has 'no interest' in returning to the bargaining table for contract negotiations.

Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan yesterday said Cabinet does "not want to be back here again" following a tentative end to a West Coast port strike. 

O'Regan tasked a federal mediator Wednesday to reach a tentative agreement and end the supply chain chaos within 24 hours. Dock workers and their employers reached a tentative contractual agreement the following day.

Since July 1, about 7,400 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Canada have halted critical shipments at about 30 ports along the west coast.

Those impacted included the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Prince Rupert — among Canada's most prominent ports for exporting natural resources and importing raw materials.

"The scale of this disruption has been significant," said O'Regan. "It has shown just how important the relationship between industry and labour is to our national interest."

According to the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, the strike disrupted $6.5 billion of cargo movement at dozens of Pacific ports, or roughly $500 million in trade a day, reported Blacklock's Reporter.

"We do not want to be back here again," said the minister. 

While neither the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) nor ILWU disclosed the tentative agreement, it is being ratified by both sides. 

There has yet to be a fixed date to resume cargo handling at the Port of Vancouver. However, the BCMEA said shippers would "resume operations as soon as possible."

"We must collectively work together to not only restore cargo operations as quickly and safely as possible but also to rebuild the reputation of Canada's largest gateway," they said.

O'Regan added: "The difference between the employers' and the union's position is not sufficient to justify a continued work stoppage." Cabinet could "not allow this work stoppage to persist and risk further damage," he said.

"Our nation's economy depends on the relationship between industry and labour." 

The union demands include wage increases, greater job security, and expanding their jurisdiction to include regular maintenance work on terminals.

According to the B.C. Maritime Employers Association, the median salary for a union longshore worker is $136,000 a year, plus benefits. It notes there has been a 10% wage increase over the last three years since the start of the pandemic.

"Although it's not good for consumers and importers, it's even worse for exporters," explained John Coray of the Freight Management Association of Canada. 

A survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) revealed that 53% of business owners believed the strike would impact their operations. Three-quarters of businesses want the feds to pass back-to-work legislation to end the strike promptly.

CFIB president Dan Kelly articulated on July 1 that the supply chain disruption hit businesses "extra hard" after beginning to recover from the COVID pandemic.

"While it is good news that grain vessels will continue to be serviced and that the union intends to service cruise ships during the strike, it's not enough," said Jasmin Guénette, Vice-President of National Affairs at CFIB.

"The government must quickly put in place legislation to ensure that port activities are fully maintained even in the event of a strike," she said, adding: "Our small businesses don't have the luxury of waiting."

According to Blacklock's Reporter, Parliament has only used 'back-to-work' legislation nine times since 1972 to end contentious labour disputes.

Cabinet in 2021 invoked 'back-to-work' legislation to end a strike at the Port of Montréal after five days, citing "reputational damage" to investors. The Canadian Labour Congress on Tuesday warned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that labour federations nationwide opposed any similar bill to end the 13-day strike along the west coast.

"Unions are committed to being partners to industry to help Canada build a strong, skilled workforce ready to power Canada's economy," Bea Bruske, president of the Labour Congress, wrote in a petition to the Prime Minister.

"But if the right to strike is weakened by the government legislating the ILWU members back to work, it will have a significant impact on every Canadian who expects to have their rights protected by their government," she wrote.

"Legislating workers back to work tramples on every Canadian's Charter right to freedom of association and the right to bargain the terms and conditions of employment. It makes a mockery of Canada's commitments to fundamental labour freedoms."

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