Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Striking International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada workers picket at a port entrance in Vancouver, B.C., on July 4.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The union representing B.C. port workers has reached a new tentative agreement, capping off a month of wild swings that saw a 13-day strike, a series of rejected deals and billions of dollars in trade disrupted at Canada’s westernmost ports.

About 7,400 workers walked off the job from July 1 to 13 – and held a 24-hour walkout several days later – at the Port of Vancouver and three smaller regions, affecting more than 35 terminals across British Columbia.

Here’s a timeline of the events that have unfolded over the past month.

June 28

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU) issue a 72-hour strike notice and schedule to strike at 8 a.m. Saturday unless a deal is reached or progress is made in negotiations.

July 1

About 7,400 members of the ILWU walk off the job, leading to the suspension of imports of consumer goods and most exports of raw materials.

The union lists three main concerns at the bargaining table: Workers’ future job security amid a plan to build a $3.5-billion, semi-automated container terminal near the Vancouver suburb of Delta; disputes with employers over contracting out; and disagreements over what constitutes a fair cost-of-living wage increase.

July 3

The Port of Vancouver begins to face a cargo bottleneck as more than 35 terminals across the province are hit by the walkout. Brent Jang reports that imported seafood has yet to be unloaded and potash exports are stuck onshore, adding to the growing congestion at terminals and warehouses.

July 4

Contract talks stall as the union clashes with employers over what constitutes a fair wage increase to account for inflation.

The union seeks a wage raise of 11 per cent in the first year and 6 per cent in the second year, as well as an $8,000 signing bonus as an “inflation adjustment allowance,” but employers say the union is asking for too much.

July 7

The union and employers clash again – this time, over how much money to set aside in a retirement fund designed to compensate employees for modernization and mechanization. The payment has been a crucial part of keeping labour peace on the waterfront.

The ILWU is seeking to increase the retirement payout from $81,250 to $91,250 in its two-year proposal, with $5,000 extra in the first year and another $5,000 in the second year. The fund, known as M&M payments, is earmarked for union members, allowing a worker with at least 25 years of service to receive the payment within 30 days of retirement.

July 9

As the walkout enters its 10th day, employers estimate that up to $775-million a day in trade has been disrupted during the strike – totalling $7-billion in cargo.

The disruption to the supply chain, including trains and trucks, has halted the flow of a wide range of products such as imports of consumer goods and exports of raw materials. Potash and sulphur are among the commodities suspended from being loaded into the cargo holds of ships that would be destined for markets overseas.

July 11

The union points to the “greed” of shippers and terminal operators, “who took advantage of an economic and health emergency to fatten their bottom lines,” as a main source of the problems affecting B.C. port workers.

According to a report commissioned by the ILWU, five major shipping companies made US$103.3-billion in profit last year, compared with US$6.2-billion in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. The ILWU says the profits of the shippers contrasts with the decline of the purchasing power of its members’ wages since 2017, which has been a key point of dispute in the strike.

July 12

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan emails a contract proposal, which was drafted by a federal mediator, to the two sides at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time, setting a 24-hour deadline for responses in hopes of ending the walkout.

July 13

The 13-day strike ends after the union and employers agree to a four-year tentative deal.

The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade calculates that more than $9.6-billion of cargo has been affected, with the number rising each second. Meanwhile, Canada’s largest trade and industry association estimates that supply chain issues could take months to sort out – about one week for every day that B.C. ports were shut down.

July 18

B.C. port workers return to the picket lines instead of reporting for their scheduled night shifts after their union caucus rejects the tentative four-year deal that had originally been given the green light by the bargaining committee.

In a statement, the ILWU said wages remain a concern: “With the record profits that the BC Maritime Employers Association’s member companies have earned over the last few years, the employers have not addressed the cost-of-living issues.”

July 19

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan calls the 24-hour walkout “illegal” after the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) rules that the union failed to provide 72 hours of notice, and Ottawa orders employees to return to work. This prompts the ILWU to issue a 72-hour strike notice to take effect on Saturday – but it was revoked hours later.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened an emergency meeting to discuss the labour impasse. The meeting was held with the Incident Response Group, federal ministers who gather in the event of a national crisis or incidents with major implications for Canada. Trudeau’s office directed federal ministers to pursue all available options to ensure cargo will move steadily.

July 21

The union caucus that rejected the tentative labour agreement changes its position and approves the deal in a new vote, clearing the way for ratification by the membership.

Union president Rob Ashton says there will be a new meeting on July 25 to “recommend the terms of settlement to the membership.” Voting is scheduled for July 27-28, with results to be announced on July 29.

July 29

The union announces that its eligible voting members turned down the proposed four-year agreement drafted by a federal mediator after ILWU leadership had originally agreed to accept it.

Meanwhile, Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan asks the CIRB to intervene – and rule – on whether it’s still possible to forge a negotiated deal despite a gulf over the issue of contracting out.

July 31

The union reaches a tentative agreement with employers, averting another strike.

A post on the ILWU’s website shows a one-page document signed by union president Rob Ashton and the presidents of five longshore locals agreeing to the tentative deal, which was negotiated under the guidance of the CIRB.

Under the the mediated plan: Wage increases total 18 per cent over four years and work out to a compounded wage hike of 19.2 per cent; a signing bonus, or “inflation adjustment allowance,” would be about $3,000 for a full-time worker; and the retirement fund would be gradually increased, with the payout being 18.5 per cent higher in the fourth year.

Mr. Ashton said the mediated proposal contains some noteworthy elements: “The proposed wage increase and signing bonus payment are noted, and we acknowledge the progress made in addressing certain workforce-related matters.”

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.

August 4

B.C. port workers approved the latest tentative agreement with employers, averting a fresh strike and avoiding further chaos to cargo moving in and out of the West Coast.

With reports from Brent Jang, Steven Chase and Kate Helmore

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe