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Labour experts urge caution ahead of union vote to end B.C. port dispute

History exists of union members rejecting deals struck at the negotiating table
A transport truck carries cargo containers from the Centerm Container Terminal at port in Vancouver, on Friday, July 14, 2023. British Columbia port workers are back on the job after a tentative agreement was reached between the employers association and the workers union, ending a 13-day-old strike. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Labour observers are urging caution ahead of a union vote that could end the long-running B.C. port dispute this week, saying there’s a history of union members rejecting deals struck at the negotiating table.

Leaders of the International and Longshore Workers Union Canada are recommending that its 7,400 or so members approve the tentative new deal with employers, that both sides announced in a joint statement late Sunday.

A previous tentative deal was rejected by union members last week, and University of Manitoba associate professor of labour studies David Camfield says such outcomes remain a possibility, although they have diminished in recent years.

Union-side labour lawyer Don Eady says the disputes in B.C. and in Ontario’s Metro grocery stores both saw union members vote down deals reached at the negotiating table, showing that workers are exercising their legal rights to get what they believe is fair.

Eady says while members rejecting a deal negotiated by their union isn’t typical, it can and sometimes should happen to protect workers against threats such as automation and rising living costs.

The union and the BC Maritime Employers Association say they reached the new agreement with the help of the Canada Industrial Relations Board, after federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan directed the board to decide if a negotiated settlement was possible, or a deal should be imposed on both sides.

A member of the union bargaining committee on Monday recommended the latest deal for ratification after opposing a previous agreement.

Rickey Baryer, vice-president of the port workers union’s Local 500 chapter, posted on Facebook that he is “proud to recommend” the latest negotiated deal.

Baryer said in a now-deleted Facebook post ahead of the vote on the previous tentative agreement that it had been “forced” on the union by the government and would have been “the beginning of the end of our very existence.”

The dispute over a new collective agreement included a strike from July 1 to 13 that ground operations to a halt at 30 port terminal and other sites.

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