© Andrii Yalanskyi

Strike action has threatened to erupt at both Canada’s ports and rail networks, leaving the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) with its hands full.  

In its ongoing dispute against the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA), the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) issued a formal 72-hour notice of intended strike action against DP World Canada, set to commence today at 4.30pm. 

Yesterday, however, the CIRB instructed the union to rescind the notice, ruling a strike would be unlawful.   

It said: “The union failed to bargain in good faith when it conducted a strike vote among the employees of only one member of the BCMEA, and issued a strike notice based on that strike vote.” 

The BCMEA added: “In targeting DP World, ILWU Local 514 is unfairly isolating a single terminal operator to create uncertainty and chaos, while many industry-wide issues remain unresolved in our shared collective bargaining process.” 

ILWU president Frank Morena has previously indicated that the issue lay with DP World’s plan to introduce automation for container loading and unloading at its rail intermodal yard in Centerm. 

The union has also been negotiating with the BCMEA on an industry-wide basis for over a year, asking for wage increases and other benefits.  

On 15 June, a vote between 584 longshore foremen on the BCMEA’s final offer, which included a 19.2% wage increase, was rejected by some 99%. The union claimed that, subject to a ‘cooling off period’ and strike ballots, it was in a legal position to call a strike.  

The CIRB commenced a hearing this week to address the dispute, with the next stage scheduled for 6 August. 

Meanwhile, the CIRB announced it had denied the Maritime Employers Association’s (MEA) request to be granted intervenor status in the dispute between the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference union (TCRC) and rail operators Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC). 

The MEA argues it is in a “unique position to assist” by providing information related to “the serious risks to the safety or health of the public that would arise in the event of a strike at CN and CPKC”.  

Specifically, it argued that the parties were not focused on the public interest, but rather on their own. CN, CPKC and the TCRC all opposed MEA’s intervention request.  

The MEA explained that due to the intermodal functions at the port of Montreal, a work stoppage involving both rail companies would “create a level of congestion that would make it impossible to move any goods to or from the vessels that are loaded and unloaded at the port”.  

Indeed, Mike Chisholm, president and CEO of A&A Customs Brokers and Global Logistics, told The Loadstar that just one week of strike action could cause “six weeks of turmoil”. 

He added: “There’s a huge backlog of goods that need to be shipped, and the shipyards fill up when we can’t access the rail, so it’s a big mess.” 

However, the CIRB decided yesterday that intervention by the MEA would not assist its determination, as it did not have an interest that was “different or distinct from that of several other groups and organisations that made submissions”.   

A final CIRB decision on whether the Canadian rail service can be deemed essential is still pending. If the decision renders it not essential, a rail strike will take place across Canada’s network at 72 hours’ notice.  

Mr Chisholm advised: “It’s important for businesses to stay apprised of the negotiations right now and have clear channels of communication in place with their customers and partners about the impact of any changes the strike may cause to their operations and pricing. 

“The best thing to prepare is to have a plan in place for both short and long-term scenarios. This may include stockpiling some items in the near term to ensure essential inventory isn’t impacted. It is also a good time to be sourcing alternative trade routes and predictive pricing, in the event of a longer strike.” 

Listen to The Loadstar Podcast News In Brief for a sub-12 minute recap of last week’s news, and insight to what you might see this week:

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