Hundreds rally in Vancouver to support striking BC port workers

VANCOUVER — Hundreds of people gathered in Vancouver for a rally to support striking British Columbia port workers as their job action stretches into its second week.

Representatives from labour groups as far away as Australia and New Zealand spoke at the event Sunday in support of the strikers, who continue to push for improved wages as the cost of living climbs, as well as protection from what they see as an overuse of contractors for maintenance work.

About 7,400 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada employed at more than 30 BC ports have been on strike since Canada Day.

ILWU Canada vice president Pat Bolen told the crowd the collective agreement lays out “very clearly” that anything to do with the movement of cargo on docks or ships is the jurisdiction of the union.

“Now what we’re seeing is contractors that have no skin in the game, coming in and stealing our lunch. What happens when somebody steals your lunch? You get angry,” he said.

“We’ve stood up and said enough is enough. This is where the line in the sand is drawn. We want our jurisdiction. We want to be cost effective, we want to be efficient, but we need to have it.”

Bolen said that while the union can’t prevent automation from being used at the ports, it should fall to union members to make repairs if robots break.

The BC Maritime Employers Association has accused the union of trying to “aggressively expand” its control of maintenance duties far beyond what the association says has been established for decades.

ILWU International president Willie Adams encouraged workers from around the world to meet ships coming to their docks and let them know that workers are united with Canadian strikers.

“They think they can take the ships to Tacoma, Seattle, Oakland, LA — ain’t happening, ain’t happening,” he said to loud cheers.

Adams told CNBC last week that members from his US west coast chapter of the union will not be unloading Canadian-bound cargo in solidarity with striking workers in Canada.

Negotiations between the two sides, supported by federal mediators, resumed Saturday after talks broke down Monday. It is unclear when the parties are expected to meet again.

The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters industry group has estimated the movement of $500 million worth of goods is being disrupted every day the strike continues.

Business organizations and some politicians have called for the federal government to bring in back-to-work legislation — an idea the union has rejected.