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Trudeau ‘dismayed’ at B.C. port union’s ‘unacceptable’ decision to reject deal

PM convened a meeting of the government’s incident response group Wednesday

rime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government is “dismayed” that an agreement to end the job action at British Columbia’s ports was rejected by the longshore union leadership.

Trudeau said Thursday that the union caucus’s decision to reject a federal mediator’s tentative deal that was agreed to at the bargaining table — putting them back in strike position — is “unacceptable.”

“The impact on workers, on families, on businesses right across the country of this prolonged strike has been significant,” he said in Belleville, Ont.

The stability of work at B.C. ports, key West Coast gateways for imports and exports, has been in flux since the leadership caucus of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada rejected the mediator’s terms on Tuesday, briefly sending workers back to picket lines.

That move was ruled illegal by the Canada Industrial Relations Board, which led the union to issue a new 72-hour strike notice on Wednesday, only to rescind that order hours later.

The strike originally started on Canada Day and ran for 13 days, shutting down or severely disrupting operations at more than 30 B.C. port terminals and other sites where union members work, freezing billions of dollars worth of products in place.

Gagan Singh, an independent trucker not involved in the ILWU-BCMEA dispute, said operations at the Port of Vancouver have returned to normal following the short work stoppage on Tuesday.

“It will take a while to settle down, but in general I think everything is fine,” Singh said, adding that the stoppage earlier this month actually allowed other areas of port operations to clear backlogs created by pre-existing bottlenecks.

Singh estimated that the original 13-day stoppage created an additional four days of overall backlog to the port.

The BCMEA confirmed ILWU workers returned to the job Wednesday afternoon at Vancouver Island ports, Delta-New Westminster and Prince Rupert, while Vancouver’s inner harbour port was back to operation on Thursday morning.

Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in Montreal on Thursday that he was “relieved” the ILWU removed its strike notice.

Earlier this week, Alghabra said in a joint statement with Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan that the federal government was considering “all options” to resolve the dispute after the union rejected the tentative deal. But on Thursday Alghabra said the clear preference is for the parties to reach a deal at the negotiating table.

“That is the ideal outcome,” Alghabra said. “We thought there was a tentative agreement that they reached last Thursday. I still don’t know what happened a couple of days ago … but now they are back at work, and I’m hoping we can proceed.”

B.C. Premier David Eby echoed the sentiment of wanting employers and the union to return to the table. He said the ongoing uncertainty is hurting the workers, the ports and Canada’s economy.

“The deal is so close, and there’s really no reason for the port not to be operating given how close both sides are,” Eby said. “We need a deal.”

The union, which represents about 7,400 port workers, has said that its caucus didn’t think the tentative deal “had the ability to protect our jobs now or into the future,” and it asked to return to the bargaining table. It also promised to appeal the industrial relations board’s ruling.

Trudeau convened a meeting of the government’s incident response group on Wednesday to discuss the situation, in a move reserved for moments of national crisis.

The prime minister said the government needs to make sure people have faith in the collective bargaining process.

“We always know that the best deals are always found through negotiations at the bargaining table and that’s what we’re focused on,” he said.

“But we also know that this strike could not continue and we’re glad to see that the union is reconsidering the good offer that was on the table and the agreement that was … accepted by both union leadership and management.”

READ ALSO: B.C. ports in limbo as union removes weekend strike notice