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Willie Adams, international president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, speaks at a strike rally in Vancouver on July 9.ETHAN CAIRNS/The Canadian Press

Port workers in British Columbia have accepted the latest tentative agreement with their employers, averting a new strike and avoiding further chaos to cargo moving in and out of the West Coast.

Nearly 75 per cent of the union members who cast their ballots on Thursday and Friday voted in favour of accepting the terms of the tentative deal, union president Rob Ashton said in a statement on Friday night.

A 13-day strike at the beginning of July at B.C. ports and a 24-hour walkout days later disrupted the supply chain, including trains and trucks, upending the flow of a wide range of products such as imports of consumer goods and exports of raw materials.

Shipping industry observers say the labour dispute will have significant lingering effects lasting at least until late September because of the lengthy process for clearing the backlog of containers and other cargo, both on the import and export sides.

The new collective agreement calls for a compounded wage hike of 19.2 per cent over four years, plus a signing bonus or “inflation adjustment allowance” of about $3,000 for a full-time worker.

There will also be gradual increases totalling $15,000 to a retirement fund that currently has an $81,250 lump-sum payout for eligible new retirees, who stand to receive $96,250 starting in the fourth year of the new contract, on top of their benefits and pension. The retirement fund is aimed at compensating employees for modernization and mechanization, known as M&M payments.

The new contract provides fresh wording designed to address union concerns about contracting out, notably a clause that stipulates employers “shall provide appropriate training to Journeyman Tradesperson on how to perform regular maintenance work,” especially on new equipment.

About 7,400 members of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU) halted their 13-day strike on July 13 and then staged a 24-hour walkout several days later. The Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) ruled that the walkout lacked the required 72-hour strike notice, and ordered the dock workers to drop their picket lines.

A post on July 30 on the ILWU’s website shows a one-page document signed by Mr. Ashton and the presidents of five longshore locals agreeing to the latest tentative deal, which was negotiated under the guidance of the CIRB. The union leaders recommended that the rank and file accept the tentative pact.

The B.C. Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA), which represents 49 private-sector companies such as shipowners and terminal operators, ratified a mediated proposal on July 13. Earlier this week, the BCMEA approved the negotiated four-year deal, which almost mirrors the mediated proposal, with the key difference being the new wording on appropriate training.

“The renewed collective agreement includes increases in wages, benefits and training that recognizes the skills and efforts of B.C.’s waterfront work force, while providing certainty and stability for the future of Canada’s West Coast ports,” the BCMEA said in a news release on Friday night.

The BCMEA said the median annual income for full-time longshore workers would rise to $162,000 a year, starting in the fourth year of the contract, compared with $136,000 in 2022.

A timeline of the B.C. port workers strike over the past five weeks

About 6,000 of the ILWU members are in the Vancouver region, 1,000 in the Prince Rupert area in northern B.C. and the rest on Vancouver Island. Full-time employees account for about 40 per cent of the work force.

On July 28, the union announced that eligible voting members rejected the mediated tentative deal after the first two-day vote.

Voters at five longshore locals did not include casual workers, who make up more than 60 per cent of the work force.

The ILWU listed three key issues: contracting out of jobs, cost-of-living wage increases and the impact of automation on job security.

The latest tentative deal emerged one day after federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan asked the CIRB on July 29 to intervene in what has been a roller coaster for the union and employers.

Union secures wording for job protection in tentative deal at B.C. ports

Ottawa seeks relief under labour code after union members at B.C. ports reject tentative deal

“Collective bargaining is hard work. But it is how the best, most resilient deals are made,” Mr. O’Regan said in a joint statement with Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez. “Minister O’Regan has directed federal officials to review how a disruption on this scale unfolded, so that in the future we can provide greater stability for the workers and businesses across Canada.”

The ratification process exposed a gap in positions between the ILWU’s caucus, which consists of representatives from five longshore locals, and the union’s bargaining committee.

In mid-July, only days after the union’s bargaining team approved the mediated tentative pact to initially end the strike, the caucus voted instead to reject the settlement, triggering the new walkout. The caucus changed its position days later and approved the package in a new vote, only to have the membership reject the mediated proposal on July 27-28.

The previous five-year contract expired on March 31, with a base rate on weekdays of $48.23 an hour on the day shift. That rate will gradually rise, reaching $57.51 an hour in the fourth year of the new contract. The deal also includes a rate increase for the night and weekend shifts, and premiums for working weekends and holidays.

The labour dispute did not affect the servicing of cruise lines. Bulk grain shipments and coal also continued being exported overseas.

But business groups have been sounding the alarm about the damage to Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading partner.

B.C. port strike affecting up to $775-million a day in trade, employers estimate

The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade estimates that work stoppages in July led to the disruption of nearly $10.7-billion worth of goods, based on a rate of $800-million a day.

“Businesses in Greater Vancouver and across the country are breathing a sigh of relief that ports and supply chains are returning to normal,” board of trade president Bridgitte Anderson said in a statement on Friday night.

Other groups such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Federation of Independent Business and Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) also welcomed news of the ratification, and urged the federal government to take measures to prevent such labour disputes from happening in the future.

“CME is calling on Minister O’Regan to meet with industry and ensure disruptions like these do not continue to impact Canada’s economy and its reputation as a reliable place to do business,” CME president Dennis Darby said in a statement on Saturday.

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