Port Strike Again Threatens Canada’s Economy After Deal Fails

A strike that paralyzed trade out of Canada’s west coast ports is set to resume Saturday after a dockworkers union rejected a tentative deal, risking further damage to the economy.

(Bloomberg) — A strike that paralyzed trade out of Canada’s west coast ports is set to resume Saturday after a dockworkers union rejected a tentative deal, risking further damage to the economy.

The International Longshore & Warehouse Union has provided 72-hour notice of renewed strike action, effective July 22 at 9 a.m. Pacific time, according to a statement Wednesday from the BC Maritime Employers Association.

The move came hours after the Canada Industrial Relations Board ruled the union’s return to the picket lines on Tuesday was “unlawful” and ordered workers to cease and desist because employers didn’t receive the required three-day notice. The ILWU pledged to appeal the CIRB decision but will comply by issuing notice of intent to strike, the union said in a release.

“The ILWU regrets the economic impact of this labor dispute and that government interference such as the CIRB order will only serve to lengthen the strike,” the union said. 


The union representing more than 7,000 workers at two of Canada’s biggest ports went on strike July 1 before a tentative agreement briefly put an end to the walkout after 13 days. But the union’s caucus rejected the deal this week because it was “not satisfied the mediator’s deal met the membership’s goals and directed the bargaining committee to seek a negotiated agreement,” the ILWU said.

“The re-issuance of strike notice shows that we will be facing a repeat of actions by the ILWU leadership that will continue to grind operations to a halt at Canada’s largest ports,” the employers association said in a statement. “The economy, businesses and Canadians cannot withstand another unnecessary and reckless labor disruption.”

The board of trade in Vancouver, home of Canada’s busiest maritime hub, has estimated the strike has so far disrupted C$10.6 billion ($8.1 billion) worth of cargo. Several industry groups, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Forest Products Association of Canada, have demanded action from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to end the strike.

The government has been reluctant to issue back-to-work legislation, given that it has an alliance in parliament with a union-friendly opposition party. Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan said Tuesday the government is “looking at all options.”

Resumption of picketing is already being felt in Canada’s agricultural sector. Canpotex, the Canada-based joint venture of Nutrien Ltd. and Mosaic Co., said it’s withdrawing all new sales offers given the renewed disruption. 

The strike has also disproportionately affected small businesses that were hit with thousands of dollars of storage fees for goods stuck at ports, according to Greg Wilson, director of government relations at the Retail Council of Canada. “This sort of disruption can be the end of a small business.”

The key sticking points in the negotiations appear to be the length of the agreement and pay raises. The four-year agreement is “far too long” given economic uncertainty, and employers have “not addressed the cost of living issues” that workers have faced, the ILWU said in a statement. 


BCMEA, the employers group, said the deal was “fair and balanced” and that it would allow workers to receive a compounded 19.2% wage increase over four years, which is “well” above average industry standards.

The labor unrest shows workers are unbending in their demand to recoup purchasing power lost over the past two years, even as inflation comes off the boil. Data out this week show annual consumer price gains are back within the Bank of Canada’s target range for the first time since March 2021. The port strike came just months after federal workers walked out to demand higher wages. 

It also points to the possibility that more strike votes and actions could be coming this year. Historically, the period of high inflation in the 1970s and 1980s led to a surge in strikes and lockouts in the country, most of which lagged the run up in prices by several months and remained high several years after pressures abated, data on work stoppages in Canada show. 

–With assistance from Curtis Heinzl.

(Updates with union comment in third to fifth paragraphs)

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