Dockworkers at the Canadian West Coast ports have voted overwhelmingly in favor of strike action if contract talks fail. Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU Canada) voted 99.24% in favor of strike action against member companies of BC Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) “if necessary”. Talks between ILWU Canada and BCMEA for a new labor contract began in February this year and negotiations under the Federal Maritime Conciliation Service started on 28 March, ending without agreement of 30 May. The strike vote by ILWU Canada was taken during a 21-day cooling-off period, meaning the earliest strike action could take place is 24 June following a three-day notice period.
The BCMEA represents 49 member companies at Canadian West Coast ports, which include the key gateways of Vancouver and Port Rupert. Strike action would include the Port of Vancouver, Canada’s largest port that handled 4m teu of container traffic in 2022, as well as 99m tonnes of bulk cargo and 20m tonnes of breakbulk. The vote in favor of strike action at Canadian West Coast ports comes at a time when US West Coast labor contract talks have become increasingly fraught, with the ILWU taking work slowdown actions at a number of key ports.
The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents US West Coast terminal operators and carriers, said on Monday that the ILWU had resumed the practice of withholding lashers from terminals in Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, causing vessels to miss scheduled departures. At the weekend, the Port of Seattle was shut down following labor actions. The ILWU has denied that its actions were leading to the closure of US West Coast ports and that its members continued to work under an expired collective bargaining agreement.
In a growing war of words between the two sides, the PMA retorted on Monday, “For months, the ILWU has staged disruptive work actions targeting the West Coast’s largest ports. These actions have either slowed operations or shut them down altogether, impeding the supply chain and leaving ships and the American exports they carry sitting idle at the docks.” The previous contract between longshoremen and US West Coast ports expired on 1 July 2022, and negotiations on a potential new deal have dragged on since 10 May 2022, with few signs of progress.
The potential strike action at Canadian West Coast ports adds to the already fraught situation at US West Coast ports, with ongoing labor issues causing significant disruptions in the supply chain. The situation highlights the need for swift resolution of labor disputes to avoid further delays and congestion at the ports, which can have significant impacts on businesses and consumers.