Port Metro Vancouver.
NICK PROCAYLO / PNG
The longshore union and Port of Vancouver employer’s were bargaining into the evening on Wednesday, looking for a deal that could avert an economically devastating lockout and port shutdown set for Thursday morning.Talks resumed at noon Wednesday, the day after the B.C. Maritime Employers Association gave notice to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of Canada that it planned to lock out most of the 6,500 longshore workers at 8 a.m. on Thursday, both parties resumed talks Wednesday at noon.The potential economic harm to Canada was enough to bring the federal labour minister to Vancouver to make an appeal for both parties to find a quick resolution.The impact of a port shutdown on the Canadian economy would be huge, idling thousands of truck drivers and employees of companies that serve ships in the Vancouver port.Based on cargo volumes and average commodity prices in 2018, the cargo value affected by a strike would be an estimated $615 million a day, a Port of Vancouver spokeswoman said. Across Canada, the financial impact could amount to about $5 billion a day, Jeff Scott, chair of the B.C. Maritime Employers Association, has said.Both the union and employer association agreed to a mediator’s condition they not to speak with media during negotiations.The association, which negotiates for the 55 companies that operate port facilities, set the lockout into motion after a limited longshore strike that began Monday. It wouldn’t affect cruise ship operations or, under federal law, loading and handling of ships at the port’s grain terminals.Federal Employment Minister Patty Hajdu met with both parties Wednesday morning, according to the media reports.A work stoppage at the Port of Vancouver would be “extremely disruptive,” the port authority — which has no involvement in the labour negotiations — said in an emailed statement Wednesday. Vancouver is the third largest port in North America by tonnes of cargo.The major sticking point in contract talks has been the employers’ desire to increase automation at the port, which Rob Ashton, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of Canada, says will eliminate good jobs supporting middle-class families.The union began a partial strike on Monday targeting just Global Container Terminals Canada, which operates the Deltaport and Vanterm container terminals.The union characterized it as a “limited and targeted job action” involving an overtime ban, but the employers’ association said it was “almost full-scale” job action against those terminals, which together handle a big majority of the millions of containers that pass through Vancouver every year.On Tuesday, the union said it had been blindsided by the lockout notice, while the association said it hadn’t arrived at the decision lightly, and viewed it as a “last resort.” Both parties said they were concerned about the economic impact of shutting down B.C.’s ports.“Given the ILWU’s strong strike mandate, this (the lockout) looks to be a strategic move,” said Kendra Strauss, director of the labour studies program at Simon Fraser University.“But given that the union is citing automation as its biggest issue, the employer probably wants to come out strong in what could be a protracted dispute. Automation has had major impacts on the longshore workforce in other jurisdictions. For both sides this is a big issue.”There have been 12 labour disruptions at the Port of Vancouver since 1969. There was a nine-day lockout in 1999, a one-day strike in 1998 and another strike in 1995. This resulted in 175 days lost, not counting 2005, when truckers withdrew their services for six weeks.In 2018, shipments through the Port of Vancouver’s four container terminals reached a record 3.4 million 20-foot-equivalent containers. The Port of Vancouver expects to reach container capacity soon and is working to expand terminals.With files from David Carrigg and Canadian Pressneagland@postmedia.comtwitter.com/nickeagland