Western ports hit choppy waters

One of the world’s least efficient cargo ports is now facing the unimaginable: Becoming even less efficient.  

What happened: BC port workers represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) voted to authorize a strike if they are unable to reach a new bargaining agreement with their employer, the BC Maritime Employers Association (MEA). 

  • The two sides have been engaged in increasingly tense negotiations after their old agreement expired in March, with over 99% of workers voting in favour of the strike.

  • The ILWU is demanding substantial wage increases as well as protection from the threat of automation stemming from the Port of Vancouver’s proposed new terminal.

Why it matters: A strike would disrupt operations at both Vancouver and Prince Rupert ports, two of Canada’s busiest ports that collectively handle over $350 billion in goods annually. In total, 16% of Canada’s total traded goods move through western ports. 

  • Perrin Beatty, CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, warned that it would take less than two weeks for a strike to impact Canada’s supply chain.

  • “Any work stoppage will damage the Canadian economy, fanning inflation and increasing costs for Canadians,” he wrote in a statement to The Peak. 

As is, the two ports already have a mighty hard time keeping containers moving, ranking second-last and seventh-last respectively, in a global ranking of port efficiency.  

What’s next: The ILWU and MEA are currently in the middle of a 21-day “cooling off” period for negotiations, meaning the earliest date the ILWU could begin striking is June 24. 

Bottom line: After groups including federal workers and WestJet pilots scored victories by either going on strike or threatening to, it’s clear that labour action is an increasingly attractive option for workers to get what they want. Get ready for a summer of picket lines.—QH