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B.C. port workers vote to reject mediated agreement

b c port workers vote to reject mediated agreement

Port workers in British Columbia have voted to reject a mediated contract offer, extending job action that prevented billions in goods from moving for almost two weeks earlier this month.

In a letter posted on the union’s website, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU) President Rob Ashton says workers are now calling on their employers to “come to the table” and negotiate directly, instead of doing so through the BC Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA).

In a statement, the BCMEA says it is disappointed the four-year tentative agreement was rejected, calling it a, “good deal that recognized the skills and efforts of B.C.’s waterfront workforce while providing certainty and stability for the future of Canada’s West Coast ports.”

The rejection raises the prospect of back-to-work legislation to end the uncertainty at more than 30 port terminals and other sites, including Canada’s largest port in Vancouver.

The four-year agreement between the union and maritime employers went to a vote of about 7,400 workers on Thursday and Friday, after union leaders presented the deal to local chapters on Tuesday.

The deal worked out with federal mediators had put a temporary halt to a 13-day strike that had commenced July 1, but its fate see-sawed wildly as the union leadership then rejected it and tried to go back to picket lines.

When that was deemed illegal by the Canada Industrial Relations Board, the union submitted a new 72-hour strike notice, only to withdraw it hours later.

On July 20, the union announced it was recommending the deal and would put it to a full membership vote.

‘Simply didn’t meet the union’s priorities’

Mark Thompson, a professor emeritus at UBC’s Sauder School of Business says he is perplexed over union membership rejecting the latest deal.

“I’m surprised, but I can understand why it didn’t pass,” said Thompson. “The package simply didn’t meet the union’s priorities.” 

Thompson says because the union was so adamant about the issues of job security and outside contracting, those issues may have been unaddressed on the contract before them. 

“That’s the signal, that something which is important to them is going left unaddressed.”

On Friday evening, the BCMEA revealed details of the deal.

It say the four-year package rejected by the ILWU included a compounded wage increase of 19.2 per cent, a signing bonus of $1.48 per hour worked to be paid to each employee, and an 18.5 per cent increase to a modernization and mechanization retirement lump sum payment. 

Parts of the BCMEA statement were critical of ILWU’s handling of the labour strife and attempts at settlement.

“The disconnect within ILWU Canada and their erratic actions of the past month have impacted Canadians for too long,” it read “Regrettably, ILWU’s rejection once again leaves businesses, Canadians and all those who depend on a stable, well-functioning supply chain hanging in the balance.”

Last week Trudeau said he was ‘dismayed’ that the union rejected the initial deal presented to them, calling the decision ‘unacceptable.’ 

Thompson says the Trudeau government has been supportive of collective bargaining in the past, and has been unwilling to impose a settlement by legislation. 

The deal’s current failure will give impetus to calls for the federal government to bring in back-to-work legislation, that came earlier from industry groups and politicians, including Alberta Premier Danielle Smith.

The earlier job action was serious enough that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened the government’s incident response group to discuss the matter, an occurrence typically reserved for moments of national crisis.

The union did not immediately respond to inquires from CBC News about the vote while the BCMEA says it is looking to the federal government to determine what happens next.

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