July 19, 2023

Port labor deal in British Columbia collapses, strike resumes

The dockworkers union strike that shuttered the container ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, Canada, was supposed to be over. It’s back on again.

The initial strike started July 1 and lasted 13 days. On Thursday, the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) announced that a tentative four-year contract agreement had been reached with the International Warehouse and Longshore Union (ILWU) Canada, via a proposed settlement from a federal mediator.

The key word here turned out to be “tentative.”

On Tuesday, the BCMEA said that the ILWU internal caucus rejected the agreement prior to a vote by the full union membership. The BCMEA — which had ratified the agreement last Thursday — said it was informed by the ILWU that strike activity would resume later Tuesday.

ILWU Canada said its caucus “does not believe the recommendations had the ability to protect our jobs now or into the future.” Members “will be back on the picket line,” the union confirmed.

Ship-position data from MarineTraffic showed six container ships waiting off Vancouver as of Tuesday afternoon, and no container vessels waiting off Prince Rupert, with seven more container ships set to arrive at the two ports in the coming days. Around a dozen container ships waited off both ports combined during the July 1-13 strike. 

Renewed impact on US rail imports

Vancouver and Prince Rupert are important to American supply chains because containers are brought through these ports and shipped via rail to Chicago and other U.S. destinations.

Data from FreightWaves SONAR that tracks volume trends of loaded international containers shipped out of Vancouver and Prince Rupert shows a near-total collapse during the July 1-13 strike period, then a rebound in recent days as port work resumed.

Now, with the strike back on, rail flows to the U.S. should sink yet again.

a chart of rail moves from Vancouver and Prince Rupert
Blue line: International containers from Vancouver. Green line: from Prince Rupert. (Chart: FreightWaves SONAR)

Click for more articles by Greg Miller 

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