source: JOC, Nov 8, 1999

Lockout of ILWU idles terminals - Containers diverted to nearby U.S. locations

Journal of Commerce Special

Container handling at the Port of Vancouver and other British Columbia ports was halted on Monday after maritime employers locked out members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Containerized cargo and other shipments were being diverted to the ports of Seattle, Tacoma and Portland, Ore.

The lockout at all British Columbia ports took effect Sunday afternoon when contract talks broke down after more than a year of on-and-off bargaining.

Only bulk grain and some coal shipments continue to move through the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, in northern British Columbia.

Though wages remain an issue, the main stumbling block has been a terminal owner's hiring last year of a nonunion firm to sample the condition of sulfur cargo.

Although the Canadian dockworkers belong to the same union that represents West Coast longshoremen, they operate under separate contracts. The ILWU's British Columbia contract expired last Dec. 31.

The lockout of the Vancouver dockworkers came just as the port was recovering from a three-week strike by independent truck drivers in July and August that left more than 7,000 containers stranded on the docks.

The truck dispute was settled after employers agreed to pay drivers by the hour instead of by the trip.

The labor disruptions have clouded what started as a promising year for Vancouver, which was named the first North American port of call for three new trans-Pacific container services run by Zim Container Service, Norasia Lines and China Ocean Shipping Co..

The new services contributed to a 44% increase, to 526,841 TEUs, in the port's containerized shipments during the first half of the year.

The port was on track to handle more than 1 million TEUs by the end of the year, and was targeting U.S. cargo currently handled by ports in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

Besides containers, the lockout has affected shipments of breakbulk cargo and bulk commodities such as potash, sulfur and petrochemicals.

The ILWU and employers have been embroiled in a dispute since last year over the hiring of a nonunion sulfur-inspection firm by Sultran Ltd., owner of Pacific Coast Terminals in Port Moody, British Columbia.

It was the first time a nonunion firm had been hired for the work, which had been done for 27 years by two firms that employ members of ILWU Local 518, which represents samplers, surveyors and testers.

Now, more than a year later, the controversy has become the key sticking point in province-wide negotiations for a new labor agreement.

Though the sulfur-sampling contract involves only eight full-time and 15 part-time workers, the ILWU says it represents the start of an effort to oust the union from the waterfront.

"We will not allow a nonunion sector to grow up in the area traditionally served by our membership," said Tom Dufresne, president of ILWU-Canada, which represents about 2,100 full-time ILWU members and 1,000 casual workers. ILWU Local 518 and 20 members who picketed Pacific Coast Terminals and Vancouver Wharves were fined last year for contempt of court. The union has refused to sign a new contract until the Certispec-Local 518 case and a separate jurisdictional dispute at Vancouver Wharves are resolved.

Bob Wilds, president of the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association, said the association isn't a party to the sulfur-sampling contract, which he said is a separate issue from the province-wide contract.

British Columbia ports shut by the lockout include Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Fraser Port, Deltaport, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Victoria, Cowichan Bay, Harmac, Stewart and Fort Simpson.

Coal continued to move through Westshore Terminals, which has a separate labor agreement, and through nonunion Ridley Terminals in Prince Rupert.

Bulk grain shipments also continued to flow through Vancouver's five grain terminals and through Prince Rupert Grain Terminal.