ILWU Dockers' Union, BC Port Employers Resume Talks

A rally for striking ILWU members drew hundreds on Sunday (ILWU Canada)

Published Jul 9, 2023 11:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

Dockworkers and port employers in British Columbia resumed talks on Saturday after a brief hiatus, assisted by federal mediators. The strike by members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU Canada) continues unabated after eight days, and the economic losses are stacking up quickly. An estimated $12 billion worth of goods are waiting off Vancouver and Prince Rupert because of the disruption, according to CNBC. 

The strike began on July 1. ILWU Canada's 7,400 members in BC walked out, demanding wage increases to offset to the rate of inflation and to reward workers’ efforts during the pandemic.

The primary points of disagreement are on wages and on maintenance jobs. The ILWU claims that terminal operators are taking away their work by bringing in maintenance contractors. Meanwhile, the BC Maritime Employer's Association (BCMEA) contends that the union is attempting to expand its jurisdiction and has difficulty supplying the tradesmen that the terminals need. 

As the strike carries on, the impact on the rest of the Canadian economy is adding up. Two railroads, Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) have told customers that they will not take some export cargoes to the key BC ports of Prince Rupert and Vancouver. According to CPKC, the reason is to allow "traffic to move west while protecting network fluidity." 

Canada's retail trade association, the Retail Council, has called for the Canadian government to intervene in the strike by recalling the parliament into session and passing a back-to-work law. The government did this once before, in 2021, to end a strike at the Port of Montreal. 

"If the work stoppage continues, there will be impacts on the supply of goods and on consumer prices," warned the Retail Council. "The labor strike at the west coast ports will have a very significant impact on both the economy as well as the availability and price of consumer goods."

If the level of support for the ILWU's strikers is any measurement, the walkout may not end soon. On Sunday, a large crowd turned out to show solidarity with the workers, and maritime labor leaders from afar flew to Vancouver to join in. ITF Dockers’ Section Second Vice-Chair Niek Stam, from the Dutch dockers’ union FNV Havens, was on hand to offer support and advice. The International President of the ILWU, Willie Adams, provided extra support for the strikers by stating that "the ILWU will not be unloading Canadian bound cargo in solidarity with out brothers and sisters in ILWU Canada."

Two ships, the MSC Sara Elena and the OOCL San Franciso, have reportedly been diverted to the U.S. and will provide a test case for the ILWU's response. MSC Sara Elena was under way off California on Sunday, according to tracking provided by Pole Star. OOCL San Francisco arrived in Seattle on Thursday.