How Canada’s West Coast port labor negotiations unfolded: a timeline

Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2023
Source: Supply Chain Dive

For Canada’s West Coast maritime workers and employers, a new contract was hard won.

The British Columbia Maritime Employers Association and International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada had been negotiating a new labor deal since February. When the two sides hit a standstill in April, they called upon a federal mediator to help.

Ultimately, mediation could not prevent a strike that forced cargo to a standstill at the major ports in Vancouver and Prince Rupert, which handle 25% of Canada’s trade. But eventually, mediators proposed a settlement, and the two sides came to a deal for a new, 4-year contract on July 13.

Now, the two sides’ membership need to ratify the contract terms, a process which could take months. In the meantime, here is a look back at how the labor talks unfolded and led to a 13-day strike.

A timeline of Canada’s months-long West Coast port labor negotiations

  • November 30

    The BCMEA notified ILWU Canada of their intent to begin collective bargaining for contracts ending on March 31, 2023.

  • February 16

    Bargaining starts between ILWU Canada and the BCMEA, each side exchanges proposals and additional dates are arranged.

  • March 20

    ILWU Canada issues a notice of dispute to the federal government, the catalyst for official mediation to begin.

  • March 29

    Federal government appoints two conciliation officers as mediators, providing them a 60-day mandate to help the parties reach a deal.

  • May 31

    After mediation fails to result in a deal within 60 days, the two parties enter a 21-day cooling off period, after which strikes or lockouts can take place. The two parties agree to not begin a strike or lockout until June 24, 2023, and to continue meeting with mediators.

  • June 5

    ILWU Canada authorizes local chapters to organize a strike vote.

  • June 9 to 12

    Union local chapters vote to authorize a strike with 99% approval. ILWU Canada announces the results on June 12.

  • June 28

    ILWU Canada provides a 72-hour notice of their intent to strike on July 1.

  • June 30

    The two parties agree through mediation to continue servicing cruises in Vancouver, Prince Rupert and Vancouver Island in the event of a strike.

  • July 1

    ILWU Canada begins strike.

  • July 1 to July 2

    Negotiations pause for health on Saturday evening after 33 consecutive hours of bargaining, talks restart the next morning.

  • July 3

    The BCMEA walks away from negotiating table, according to the union. Employers’ association calls for a “course change” from the union.

  • July 4 to 7

    Union and employers’ association trade allegations via public statements, but do not return to the bargaining table. They continue to meet with mediators.

  • July 8

    ILWU Canada and the BCMEA return to the bargaining table with the assistance of federal mediators.

  • July 9 to 11

    The two parties continue talks but make little progress, according to the BCMEA. Each side issues statements showcasing their position and proposed solutions but the strike continues.

  • July 11, evening

    Canada Minister of Labour Seamus O’Regan asks the senior federal mediator assisting with the contract talks to propose a settlement to the negotiations within 24 hours. O’Regan informs the parties they would then have 24 more hours “to decide whether or not to recommend ratification of the terms to their principals.”

  • July 13

    ILWU Canada and the BCMEA reach a tentative deal for a 4-year contract. The 13-day strike ends and port operations resume.


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