B.C. port union to brief workers on new collective deal ahead of crucial vote

B.C. port union to brief workers on new collective deal ahead of crucial vote
Willie Adams, international president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, speaks at a strike rally in Vancouver on Sunday, July 9, 2023. Labour observers are urging caution ahead of a union vote that could end the long-running B.C. port dispute this week, saying there's a history of union members rejecting deals struck at the negotiating table.

Longshore union negotiators will brief workers about a new tentative collective agreement with employers, ahead of a two-day vote on whether to approve the deal that could finally bring an end to British Columbia’s long-running port dispute.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada says on its website the vote will take place Thursday and Friday and reiterates the group’s leadership caucus is recommending the deal to its full membership.

It says a “stop work” meeting will be held Wednesday morning at the union’s Vancouver headquarters, with members of the contract negotiating committee answering questions and all members encouraged to attend.

Labour observers are urging caution ahead of the vote, saying there’s a history of union members rejecting deals struck at the negotiating table.

A previous tentative deal was rejected by the port union’s members last week, and University of Manitoba associate professor of labour studies David Camfield says such outcomes remain a possibility, although they have diminished in recent years.

Union-side labour lawyer Don Eady says the disputes in B.C. and in Ontario’s Metro grocery stores both saw union members vote down deals reached at the negotiating table, showing that workers are exercising their legal rights to get what they believe is fair.

Eady says while members rejecting a deal negotiated by their union isn’t typical, it can and sometimes should happen to protect workers against threats such as automation and rising living costs.

The ILWU and the BC Maritime Employers Association announced their latest tentative agreement in a joint statement late Sunday.

They say they reached the new agreement with the help of the Canada Industrial Relations Board after federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan directed the board to decide if a negotiated settlement was possible, or a deal should be imposed on both sides.

A member of the union bargaining committee on Monday recommended the latest deal for ratification after opposing the previous agreement.

Rickey Baryer, vice-president of the port workers union’s Local 500 chapter, posted on Facebook that he is “proud to recommend” the latest deal.

Baryer said in a now-deleted Facebook post ahead of the vote on the previous tentative agreement that it had been “forced” on the union by the government and would have been “the beginning of the end of our very existence.”

In an order relating to the new deal, the board warned union leaders that changing their mind about an agreement during ratification would be an “unfair labour practice.”

The dispute over a new collective agreement included a strike from July 1 to 13 that ground operations to a halt at 30 port terminal and other sites.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 1, 2023.

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