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B.C. port strike ends as workers vote to accept new deal

Port workers in British Columbia have accepted a new tentative deal with their employers, bringing an end to a tumultuous, weeks-long labour dispute that has paralyzed industries and supply chains across Canada.

Late on Friday, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU) says the vast majority of its more-than-7,400 members voted to ratify a deal reached with help from the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB).

The two-day vote closed at 6 p.m. PT on Friday.

“The results of the ratification vote for the tentative agreement show 74.66 per cent in favour of accepting the terms of settlement,” ILWU president Rob Ashton wrote in a letter posted to the union’s Facebook page shortly before 8 p.m. PT on Friday.

Both the ILWU and the employers, represented by the B.C. Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA), have now ratified the deal.

No details on the provisions of the deal have been released, but according to the BCMEA, the new agreement includes increased wages, benefits and training for workers along with provisions to ensure labour stability at ports in the future.

“As we move forward to implement the terms of the agreement, we are committed to working collaboratively with our labour partners, the federal government and key stakeholders to rebuild the reputation of Canada’s largest gateway,” it said in a news release Friday evening. 

The approval averts further federal intervention to end the dispute, which shut down more than 30 port terminals and other sites from July 1 to 13, including Canada’s busiest, the port of Vancouver.

The tentative contract between the union and the BCMEA was announced on Sunday, a day after federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan directed the CIRB to impose a deal or binding arbitration if it decides a negotiated resolution isn’t possible.

A statement from the union on July 30 said both sides were encouraging union members and member employers to ratify the agreement. 

Union leaders have said workers’ key concerns relate to automation and the contracting out of maintenance work, both of which present fundamental challenges to the future of port jobs. 

O’Regan and Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez welcomed the result Friday night.

“This is good news for the employer, the union, and the many workers and businesses across Canada that rely on our B.C. ports,” they said in a joint statement posted to X, formerly known as Twitter.

A large group of people, many carrying signs and flags, gather along the waterfront.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada’s strike caused a 13-day shutdown of more than 30 ports in B.C., including Canada’s largest, the Port of Vancouver, in July. (Ethan Cairns/The Canadian Press)

Tumultuous negotiations

A previous tentative deal halted the first strike, but since then the fate of any agreement has see-sawed wildly, with union leaders rejecting the deal and briefly sending workers back to pickets on July 18, before that move was deemed illegal by the CIRB the next day.

The ILWU issued a new 72-hour strike notice only to rescind it hours later, then announced it would recommend the original deal to members in a full vote.

But members rejected it on July 28, triggering O’Regan’s order for the industrial relations board to help both reach an agreement.

No strike action had been taken since the brief stoppage on July 18.

As the dispute dragged on, costing several industries billions of dollars and leaving valuable cargo stranded on ships arriving at B.C.’s ports, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had faced calls from some political leaders and business groups to legislate port workers back to work. 

“Businesses in Greater Vancouver and across the country are breathing a sigh of relief that ports and supply chains are returning to normal,” said Greater Vancouver Board of Trade President Bridgitte Anderson in a Friday news release.

The board estimates $10.7 billion of trade was disrupted during the strike, and Anderson said the federal government need to have more options to end future labour disruptions that can significantly impact the national economy.

O’Regan said he has directed federal officials to review how the dispute was handled to avoid similar disruptions to workers and businesses in the future.

“We do not want to be back here again,” he and Rodriguez said in their joint statement Friday.

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