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Union says B.C. port employers want government to do dirty work to end strike

Day six of B.C. port strike as management calls for binding arbitration
Striking International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada workers picket at a port entrance in Vancouver, B.C., Tuesday, July 4, 2023. The organization that represents employers at roughly 30 strikebound ports in British Columbia says binding arbitration could end the six-day-old dispute. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The president of the union representing striking British Columbia port workers said employers are waiting for the federal government to do their “dirty work” instead of negotiating an end to the workers’ six-day strike.

Officials with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada also said the association representing port employers is more interested in a “dirty tricks campaign,” than resuming talks that stalled on Monday.

Hundreds of port workers and supporters attended a solidarity rally in Vancouver Thursday morning, chanting in unison and waving placards and union flags.

Rob Ashton, president of the union, told the rally that “the employer walked away from the table three times.”

“They don’t want to negotiate with us. They don’t want to do the right thing for the workers of the longshore division that put their lives on the line during the COVID pandemic,” he said.

“They’re trying to wait for the government to do their dirty work because they don’t want to treat us with respect.”

Following his speech, the workers marched to the busy intersection of Clark Drive and East Hastings Street to picket.

The BC Maritime Employers Association has been calling for binding arbitration to end the strike involving about 7,400 workers at more than 30 ports.

The union workers have been off the job since Canada Day to back demands for improved wages and provisions against contracting out and automation.

Ashton said in a statement earlier Thursday that the employers association had released misinformation and details exaggerating the incomes of dock workers.

The association said Wednesday that binding arbitration could quickly resolve the job action.

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan is instead urging the two sides to make use of available mediators and resume negotiations.

O’Regan met with his B.C. counterpart, Labour Minister Harry Bains, on Wednesday to discuss the strike, which has idled Canada’s busiest port, in Vancouver, as well as the third busiest port, in Prince Rupert.

CP Rail, now known as CPKC Ltd., issued temporary embargoes on rail traffic to the Port of Vancouver this week, while officials in Alberta and Saskatchewan have joined with business organizations in B.C. and across Canada calling for federal legislation to end the job action.

“Negotiations are still paused, however, the BCMEA remains ready to re-engage at a moment’s notice, assuming ILWU Canada is prepared to present a reasonable proposal,” the association said in an email Wednesday.

The strike has potentially disrupted $3.7 billion of cargo, it said.

“Automotive parts, refrigerated food, fertilizer, critical minerals and goods … are not reaching Canadians or our trading partners abroad,” said the association.

Data show the Port of Vancouver handles approximately 142 million tonnes of cargo annually while nearly 25 million tonnes of goods moved through Prince Rupert in 2022.

READ ALSO: Port strike will have ‘dire’ effect on supply chain: BC Chamber of Commerce