British Columbia

Lockout ends for 6,500 B.C. port workers after tentative deal reached

Less than three hours after it began, a lockout affecting thousands of longshore workers in B.C. is over.

Details of agreement won't be released until ratification vote, union says

Port workers picket in Vancouver early Thursday. The lockout ended less than three hours after it began, when negotiators announced they'd reached a tentative deal. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Less than three hours after it began, a lockout affecting thousands of longshore workers in B.C. has ended.

The lockout began after the workers' union and the association representing port employers failed to reach a deal by the 8 a.m. PT lockout deadline.

The lockout ended just before 10:45 a.m. PT after a tentative deal was reached, according to a release from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

The statement said no details of the tentative agreement would be released until union members cast ratification votes.

Port workers picket outside the B.C. Maritime Employers Association in Vancouver Thursday, hours after a lockout deadline passed without a deal. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The latest round of negotiations got underway in downtown Vancouver on Wednesday, less than 24 hours before the lockout notice issued by the B.C. Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) was due to take effect.

Talks continued through the night but without an agreement by deadline, the 6,500 members of the union found themselves locked out at all B.C. port operations except cruise ship or grain terminals.

Dozens of workers camped out outside the BCMEA dispatch centre in Vancouver started putting on their picket signs as the deadline ticked closer. They began walking and circling the building once the top of the hour came and went, but wouldn't comment on the situation as a media blackout on the negotiations remained in effect.

The lockout ended just before 10:45 a.m. PT after a tentative deal was reached, according to a release from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The blackout meant key players at the table also could not comment on which sticking points were preventing a deal.

After news of the tentative deal broke, union president Rob Ashton said the bargaining committee  is satisfied .

"The ports are open. My members are going to be going to the dispatch hall for this afternoons dispatch. Bring the boats in, we want to ship cargo."

 BCMEA president Mike Leonard said the agreement was "fair and balanced … it was hard earned by both parties." 

The BCMEA said disruption at B.C.'s ports could have cost the Canadian economy about $5 billion a day. The Chamber of Shipping of B.C., which represents the ships that move cargo in and out of Canada, said recovery after a lockout ends would also be costly.

"We estimate it takes a month to recover from every week lost due to labour disruptions, so it's huge on the entire Canadian economy," said chamber president Robert Lewis-Manning, speaking over the phone after the lockout began.

"As the days tick by or we start to have to play catchup after a solution is found, there could be some minor cost impacts at a retail level," he added.

Many employees on the picket line wore hoodies with union crests emblazoned across the back. 

One worker, Al, sat in a chair looking dour as he waited for news earlier Thursday morning. He declined to give his last name, but said he's a 51-year employee and believed a lockout would happen over the issue of automation.

"It doesn't matter to me. I'm an old man. But the future," he said, trailing off and shaking his head.

A port worker pickets outside of the B.C. Maritime Employers Association in Vancouver on Thursday, after a provincewide lockout began. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The union had said a lockout would shut "down the entire West Coast shipping industry," affecting the Port of Vancouver and around 20 other facilities across B.C. whose workers are members of the ILWU.

Jeff Scott, board chair of the BCMEA, said employers were seeking mediation.

Workers gathered outside the BCMEA early Thursday as they awaited news about a lockout. (Yvette Brend/CBC)

Port workers began limited job action on Monday that included a ban on working overtime in two terminals in Vancouver and Delta after parties walked away from the bargaining table following weekend talks.

Ashton said the union was aiming for "fair language in the collective agreement around automation" to ensure jobs are protected.

Shipping containers stand at the DP World terminal at the Port of Vancouver Wednesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The BCMEA argued automation is already addressed in the collective agreement and moving toward automated ports is necessary to keep jobs in Canada.

The union voted more than 98 per cent in favour of a strike mandate earlier this month.

With files from The Canadian Press, Yvette Brend, Gian-Paolo Mendoza and Rhianna Schmunk