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B.C. Tug Strike Ends, Lifting Picket Line for Seaspan's Shipyard

seaspan
The first of two Joint Support Ships under construction at Seaspan (Courtesy Seaspan)

Published Oct 16, 2022 11:29 AM by The Maritime Executive

After more than seven weeks on strike, a mariners' union representing tug captains, mates and engineers has reached a tentative deal with Vancouver, B.C. operator Seaspan. The agreement allows the towing vessel officers to return to work, but it will also allow Seaspan's much larger shipbuilding enterprise to resume operations. Production at its Vancouver Shipyard plant has been heavily affected since September 7, when striking tug officers set up a picket line at the yard - and 1,000 unionized welders, pipefitters, electricians and other essential shipbuilding personnel decided not to cross it.

The Canadian Merchant Service Guild (CMSG) represents the licensed maritime crew aboard Seaspan's tugs, and its last collective bargaining agreement with the company expired in late 2019. The union was not satisfied with the company's last, best offer in contract negotiations this summer - particularly the size of a cost of living adjustment and a plan for "pager" shift scheduling, according to documents obtained by local paper The Tyee. On August 25, union leadership announced a strike action, including a picket line at Seaspan's other line of business - shipbuilding for the Canadian government. 

Seaspan's shipbuilding enterprise is focused on federal government contracts, and it has been running behind schedule. It holds a contract to build two $1.5 billion (CAD$2 billion per unit) underway-replenishment fleet auxiliaries for the Royal Canadian Navy; construction on the first began in June 2018, and after a series of setbacks, it is now expected to deliver in 2025. 

The picket line had an immediate and substantial impact. “Virtually no union employees have reported to work at Vancouver Shipyards" since the picket line went up, a Seaspan spokesperson told North Shore News. 

That disruption is now over. In a brief note to members published Friday, the CMSG said that it has reached a tentative deal with Seaspan. "The Guild will immediately withdraw our picket lines while the tentative agreement is being voted by the members employed at Seaspan. Thank-you to those who provided support during this difficult job action," the union said.