Monday, Oct. 31, 2011 (see update)

By Alison Bate

Talks between the maritime employers and dock foremen in British Columbia are deadlocked, the organisation representing employers said Friday (Oct.28)

“Nothing’s happening. We’re at an impasse, ” said Greg Vurdela, vice president of marketing for the B.C Maritime Employers Association.

He also accused dock foremen in Local 514 of the International Longshore Warehouse Union of “dirty tricks” in delaying ship handling at the end of the third-quarter.

Foremen aren’t supposed to work more than 624 hours in a quarter, but nearly always exceed that, according to Vurdela. If they weren’t bargaining, at the end of this September they would have brought in more foremen, as usual. Instead, a group of foremen decided to stop at 624 hours.

This meant one cruise ship left late, one container ship lost an entire graveyard shift and several vessels loading logs bound for China were delayed a couple of days.

The 450 dock foremen in ILWU Local 514 traditionally finish negotiating after the main longshore unions have settled their contract.

In this case, the main ILWU longshore contract was settled – with great fanfare – in May. It was heralded as a historic deal, covering eight years and involving approximately 4,500 workers in five ILWU Locals in Vancouver, New Westminster, Vancouver Island, Prince Rupert and Stewart.

The Canadian government was heavily involved in the talks, appointing two federal mediators even before both contracts ran out on March 31, 2010. For a while, the mediators batted back and forth between the main longshore negotiators and negotiators for the foremen in ILWU 514.

However, Vurdela said although the federal mediator hasn’t officially booked out, the last talks involving ILWU 514 were held Sept. 15 and nothing much happened then or has happened since.

“We’ve made our final offer, and the negotiating committee is not willing to address it.”

Vurdela claimed there were several sticking points involving wages, benefits and languages changes that when added up meant the ILWU 514 folks wanted a richer settlement than the main longshore agreement.

He said foremen make on average, including benefits, about $200,000 a year, and a significant number make $250,000.

“I’m left not understanding why guys who make $250,000 are not signing onto this,” he added.

ILWU Local 514 has not returned email or phone requests for comments to date.

© Alison Bate, 2011.

UPDATE: Agreement finally reached (Jan.31, 2012 press release)

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