UPDATE: Possible work stoppage threatens to close Prince Rupert Port

The Port of Prince Rupert is facing a potential work stoppage in near future, one that has the possibility of seeing the Asia-Pacific Gateway grind to a halt.

The Port of Prince Rupert is facing a potential work stoppage in near future, one that has the possibility of seeing the Asia-Pacific Gateway grind to a halt.

Earlier this week, International Long Shoreman and Warehouse Workers Union held a province-wide strike vote. By Thursday afternoon, a full-on media war had begun between the union and the B.C. Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA).

The union’s negotiating team has not yet decided to release the results of the strike vote. But, the union said on Thursday through a press release that they have no intention of issuing a strike notice before negotiations resume, which are scheduled for February 12.

The two sides are currently in a cooling off period ends in less than a week, on February 7. The B.C. Maritime Employers Association has suggested in media reports that if the union were to issue the mandatory two-day notice, a strike could begin as early as the next day. On Thursday the union sent out a press release that accuses the BCMEA of fear mongering.

“It is the height of irresponsibility for the BCMEA to make these comments which will only create uncertainty, a circumstance the BCMEA claims to be trying to avoid,” says union president, Tom Dufresne via the press release.

On the flip side, the Prince Rupert chapter of the union has said that its more likely that BCMEA will lock the workers out. They claim that the BCMEA filed the federal paperwork that enabled them to start a lockout around a month ago.

“They’ve actually moved forward on this, not us . . . the last time long shoremen went on strike was 25 years ago, but we’ve been locked out numerous times since then. Yet everybody thinks we went on strike; it’s always locked out,” says Tom MacDonald, the secretary treasurer of the local 505.

A strike or a lockout would effectively shut down the Prince Rupert Port. Only the grain elevator and the coal terminal on Ridley Island would remain operational. This is because the grain elevator has government rules that disallow picketing it, and the coal terminal is governed by a different agreement. A strike would also mean the closing of Vancouver’s port.

The BCMEA has been suggesting that any strike would be industry-wide and would cripple the country’s export business in what are already tough economic times. The union has shot back saying that an industry-wide strike is optional and that the BCMEA’s statements are “disingenuous and misleading.”

According to media reports, a collective agreement covering 4,800 union members expired on March 31, 2010. BCMEA representatives have estimated that a strike would cost about $100-million per day across the province. They have also suggested that the two parties are not even close to having a deal.

The Northern View will be updating this story as it develops and as we get more information.

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