Canada port workers ratify new four-year contract

By Beverly Bernardo
August 21, 2023

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Rob Ashton, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada, announced Aug. 4 that after rejecting a previous contract offer the week before, the union’s members had voted by over 74% to ratify a new four-year agreement with the BC Maritime Employers Association.

The ILWU’s 7,400 members on the West Coast had shut down all 30 port terminals in British Columbia from July 1-13. These ports handle some 25% of Canada’s foreign trade. The workers demanded a two-year contract, wage increases to cover inflation, and job protection from the bosses’ drive to step up automation and contract out union jobs.

Despite government strikebreaking threats, union members voted twice to reject the bosses’ offer of a 5% a year raise in the first two years and 4% for  each of the final two. This is  below the rate of inflation.

In the contract the workers voted up, they won new language “that addressed the union’s concerns about employers outsourcing maintenance work to nonunion contractors,” the Aug. 5 Globe and Mail reported. Still, some 25% of the ILWU members were not convinced they got enough.

Canada’s largest shippers across the country called for the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa to recall Parliament from its summer break, bar any further strike action, and impose the bosses’ proposal.

Trudeau called in the Canada Industrial Relations Board, a so-called independent body appointed by the government, which set an Aug. 4 deadline for the union to accept a contract.

Even with the agreement, Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan issued threats against workers’ right to strike in the future. “This dispute caused serious disruption to our supply chains, risking our strong international reputation as a reliable trading partner,” he told the press. “We will have more to say on this soon.”

The determined fight by longshore workers to make gains won widespread solidarity from working people worldwide, including the refusal by ILWU locals in the U.S. to handle cargo diverted from Canada.

“Thank you to all of my sisters and brothers of ILWU international, port workers from around the world, and numerous nonport workers unions who came in solidarity to support us in our fight,” Rickey Baryer, vice president of ILWU Local 500, said Aug. 5.

“Local 500 passed a resolution to show solidarity with the workers who have been locked out at the Pan Pacific Hotel here for two years,” machine operator Daniel Hutton told the Militant Aug. 2 after the union’s meeting to discuss the contract offer. “They took the time out to support us during our strike.

“They have shown a lot of courage and strength. We owe it to them to reciprocate to see that they get a contract,” he said.