Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Port talks to resume on Thursday as concerns continue over diverted shipments

Not much has changed in the progress of talks between the two sides involved in the latest negotiations on the BC waterfront, more talks are set for Thursday to try and get over the blocking points in the negotiations.

While some progress was reported during the last round of discussions, no details were revealed as to what they may have settled and what may still be holding up progress, though it’s believed that pension and technology issues are large on the radar for the ILWU.

The BC Marine Employers Association have been sounding the alarm that all the uncertainty is resulting in diverted shipments, which they say could be a problem in the future as shippers find new ports more to their liking.

The Daily News featured an update on the situation as the front page item in Tuesday’s paper.

Negotiations between employers and port workers planned to resume on Thursday
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Pages one and two

Discussions between the International Longshore Workers Union local 514 and the BC Mariners Employers Association broke off Friday with the sides still at an impasse.

While further discussion is planned for Thursday, the fact that talks have not resulted in a deal is troubling for the Canadian economy.

"Some progress was made on some of the issues and some issues remain," said BCMEA spokesman Greg Vurdela.

Employers presented a new comprehensive proposal, and the union responded the next day with a counterproposal.

The union rejected BCMEA's latest offer - a three-year deal that would increase wages and benefits by 13 per cent and which would boost salary to $46 per hour.

But wages are not as much an issue as are concerns about pensions and an "unfettered" introduction of new technologies and work practices to make cargo handling more efficient - a fact that has been writ large in Prince Rupert, home to Canada's first intermodal system.

That system requires fewer services from longshoremen. Containers are swiftly grabbed from vessels and loaded onto trains to begin their journey east.

According to the BCMEA, in addition to the above mentioned issue, ILWU Local 514 is seeking the addition of a destination/departure point to the current travel time allowance provision of the col1ective agreement; addition of new benefit (accidental death and dismemberment) to the existing welfare plan; a modernization and mechanization payment for ILWU Ship Planners and dispatchers.

The stakes are pretty high, as reported in the Daily News last week, 20 per cent of all container traffic previously earmarked for Prince Rupert and Vancouver has been scooped by ports in Tacoma and Seattle due to fears of shipping halts thanks to labour unrest.

Vurdela said that both sides at the bargaining table are feeling a certain amount of pressure to get a deal done that works for all in the hope that no further traffic is averted.

“It would be obviously in the interest of both sides to get a settlement and certainly (BCMEA) acknowledges that cargo is being diverted to other West Coast ports and that is a significant issue,” said Vurdela.

While Local 514 represents 450 members in Prince Rupert and Vancouver, any possible strike or lockout action could affect more than 10-times that number of workers. There are approximately 5,200 ILWU workers who would be forced off the job if work action is taken.

Negotiations have been ongoing since April.

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