The union representing B.C. port workers has reached another tentative deal with employers, this time securing new wording on contracting out maintenance duties after pressing for improved job protection.
The tentative agreement averts a third strike while capping a month of wild swings in labour relations. The disruption to the supply chain, including trains and trucks, has upended the flow of a wide range of products such as imports of consumer goods and exports of raw materials.
The proposed pact contains new language designed to alleviate the union’s concerns about employers continuing to outsource maintenance jobs to mostly non-union contractors, according to two sources familiar with the situation.
The new package runs for four years and uses a previous proposal drafted by a federal mediator as the template, with wage increases, a signing bonus and other details kept intact, they said. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Both sides in the labour dispute said late Sunday that their members should accept the settlement, which was reached just hours after the union criticized employers for refusing to budge on the major sticking point of contracting out.
The Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) has given the two sides until the end of this week to hold their ratification votes.
Peter Hall, professor of urban studies at Simon Fraser University, said the union has been adamant about job protection and security during a time of increased automation and new technology.
“There is kind of a fear of becoming extinct,” Prof. Hall said in an interview on Monday. “The fear of being replaced by robots or being replaced by somebody who’s not in the union.”
The union warns that if terminals became semi-automated, they would potentially operate with 50 per cent fewer employees.
About 7,400 members of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU) halted their 13-day strike on July 13, but then held a 24-hour walkout several days later.
The ILWU listed contracting out as one of its three key issues. The other two main concerns are cost-of-living wage increases and the impact of automation on job security.
“Our ports are operating, but this deal – made by the parties – would mean long-term stability,” federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan tweeted on Monday. During the on-again, off-again bargaining phase, he arrived in Vancouver on June 30 and stayed until July 13.
Union president Rob Ashton said in a statement on Sunday that the previous mediated proposal contained some noteworthy elements. “The proposed wage increase and signing bonus payment are noted, and we acknowledge the progress made in addressing certain work force-related matters,” Mr. Ashton said.
The wage increases total 18 per cent over four years and work out to a compounded wage hike of 19.2 per cent, while the signing bonus, or “inflation adjustment allowance,” would be about $3,000 for a full-time worker, according to the mediated plan drafted by Peter Simpson, director-general of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
Sunday night’s tentative deal emerged soon after Mr. O’Regan asked the CIRB on Saturday to intervene in what has been a roller-coaster month for the union and employers.
He wanted the CIRB to quickly determine whether the possibility of a negotiated settlement had been eliminated, given that the union members voted on July 27-28 to reject the mediated proposal that their leadership had agreed to on July 21.
The CIRB could have imposed a new agreement or ordered final binding arbitration to resolve outstanding issues, if the two sides had failed to reach a negotiated deal.
In a bit of déjà vu, the new announcement of the tentative deal was made just 17 days after union leaders and employers approved and recommended acceptance of the proposed collective agreement that had been drafted by Mr. Simpson after talks stalled at the bargaining table.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre sent a letter on Sunday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging him to fire Mr. O’Regan. On Monday, Mr. Trudeau defended the Labour Minister, saying he “has been there to encourage people at the table to make sure that we’re getting toward a solution.”
During July, labour peace at B.C. ports appeared imminent and then elusive. But the key difference this time is that the new proposal is the result of negotiations to resolve the outstanding issue of contracting out, instead of being back at square one.
The BC Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA), which represents 49 private-sector companies such as shipowners and terminal operators, ratified the mediated proposal on July 13.
A post late Sunday on the ILWU’s website shows a one-page document signed by Mr. Ashton and the presidents of five longshore locals agreeing to the tentative deal, which was negotiated under the guidance of the CIRB.
“The ILWU Canada longshore bargaining committee is happy to announce that we have secured a negotiated tentative settlement with the BCMEA,” the union leaders said.
In a joint news release late Sunday, the union and employers confirmed that the CIRB assisted in forging the tentative agreement. “The parties are recommending ratification of the collective agreement to the union’s membership and member employers respectively,” the two sides said.
The truce marked a significant turnaround from the tone earlier on Sunday, when Mr. Ashton issued a sharply worded statement on how contracting out threatens the job security of ILWU members.
The previous five-year contract expired on March 31. The new tentative collective agreement, if ratified by both sides, would be dated to start on April 1.
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 mediated proposal, compared with $136,000 in 2022.
Under the mediated plan, a retirement fund designed to compensate employees for modernization and mechanization would be gradually increased, with the payout being 18.5 per cent higher in the fourth year, compared with now. Known as M&M payments, the fund earmarked for union members has grown over the years to the current lump-sum payout of up to $81,250, allowing a worker to receive the payment within 30 days of retirement, in addition to a pension. M&M payments vary, depending on credited service.
The ILWU’s bargaining committee approved the mediated tentative pact to initially end the strike on July 13, but days later, the union’s caucus voted instead to reject the settlement, triggering the new walkout. The way the process unfolded exposed a gap in positions between the caucus, which consists of representatives from five longshore locals, and the negotiating team.
“The board reminds ILWU leadership that it can be considered an unfair labour practice for union leadership to unanimously support a settlement agreement and subsequently change its position through the ratification process,” the CIRB said in a statement on Monday.
About 6,000 of the ILWU’s 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 workers account for about 40 per cent of the work force.