ILWU Canada Announces Strike & Possible Opportunity for U.S. Exporters

 In export, exporters, exports, ILWU, ILWU contract, ILWU Strike, ocean freight, ocean shipping, shippers, U.S. Export Shipping

The International Longshore & Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU Canada) gave formal notice yesterday that it will strike starting Saturday morning. The union sent a short letter of notice to British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) President and CEO Mike Leonard and copied Minister of Labour Seamus O’Regan:

This is your notice, pursuant to section 87(2)(1) of the Canada Labour Code, that the Union will commence strike action against the BCMEA and its member employers on July 1, 2023 at or about 08:00 am.

The letter was signed by ILWU Canada President Rob Ashton.

truckers strike Port of Los Angeles Long Beach

This strike is significant to U.S. businesspeople who import and export goods for a few reasons. Among the reasons, a portion of U.S.-originating or -bound containerized goods shipped via ocean move through Canadian ports. Another is labor action at U.S. West Coast ports finally just ceased, as the ILWU at last reached a tentative contract agreement with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) two weeks ago, and some shippers may worry labor action here will start up again from ILWU members in solidarity with their Canadian West Coast dockworker brothers.

Not all reasons for U.S. businesspeople to be interested are necessarily bad. This could present an opportunity for U.S. manufacturers and exporters. More on that later below….

U.S. Ocean Freight Through Canada

According to the Canadian government’s website, less than 2.5% of U.S. containerized cargo imports go through Canadian ports. However, that is still a significant amount of U.S. imports that could be delayed by this dockworker strike, even if the Canadian government calls it marginal. If your cargo is coming in or going out through British Columbia ports, you probably don’t care what portion of U.S. ocean cargo it’s among. You just want your cargo to get to its destination.

Likelihood of Solidarity Strike

Happily, even with some looking, I’ve neither seen nor heard rumblings of labor action here connected to the ILWU Canada strike. However, as we’ve unfortunately seen again during recent port disruption, ILWU labor action can happen suddenly and without warning. Certainly without a formal letter of notice.

With the new tentative agreement just entering the ratification process, one would not expect the ILWU to resume labor action. The union successfully achieved significant pay hikes, and the PMA has to ratify the contract along with the ILWU.

On the other hand, and this may be a bit of gray area, the contract not being ratified yet means contractual protections against labor actions like a strike are not technically back in place yet. That would make now a moment the union would be more likely capable of executing labor action than after ratification.

All things considered, the strike should remain localized to ILWU Canada, but we have to remain vigilant.

ILWU Canada Strike Statement (Full Text)

Here’s the full statement ILWU Canada released with its 72 hour strike notice:



Free Collective Bargaining between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada (ILWU) and the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) has been ongoing since February of this year in an attempt renew the industry wide collective agreement which expired March 31, 2023.

The Union is seeking a fair deal that respects Longshore workers, one that protects our jobs and our jurisdiction. We are seeking recognition for the hard work and sacrifices that Longshore Workers made during the pandemic and the extraordinary work that Longshore Locals did in getting workers out to the terminals during the lockdowns.

Our Main Objectives are:

–To stop the erosion of our work through Contracting Out

–To protect current and future generations from the devastating impacts of Port Automation

–To protect longshore workers from record High Inflation and sky rocketing Cost of Living

But the Employers and their bargaining agent, the BCMEA have repaid our hard work and dedication with demands for major concessions. Their only objective is to take away rights and conditions from longshore workers after having gorged themselves on record profits during the pandemic.

Longshore workers kept this Province and the Country running during the Pandemic and when Canadians were told to shelter in place, our people went to work! We worked in difficult and hazardous conditions to ensure that the communities where we live, and all Canadians had the necessary supplies and personal protective equipment to defend against the Covid19 virus. This was an unprecedented time in the history of the world and longshore workers stepped up and proved that we are here to support the people of Canada. It is unfortunate that our employers hold us in such contempt.

Unfortunately, the ILWU Canada Bargaining Committee has run out options at the bargaining table because the BCMEA and their member employers have refused to negotiate on the main issues, and we feel we are left with no choice but to take the next step in the process. Therefore, at 8:00am on June 28, 2023, ILWU Canada issued 72-hour strike notice to the BCMEA. Longshore Workers are prepared to walk off the job at 8:00am on July 1, 2023.

We remain committed to negotiate an end to this dispute that respects Longshore Workers and we call on the BCMEA to drop all concessions and get serious about negotiating with the Union in good faith.

Rob Ashton

President – ILWU Canada

Opportunity for U.S. Exporters?

If the ILWU Canada strike creates significant and extended disruption to Canadian West Coast ports, this could be an opportunity for U.S. exporters.

Canada is already the United States’ second largest goods trading partner, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for growth. According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, there was $292.7 billion worth of U.S. goods exported to Canada in 2019. And that number was down 2.4% from the prior year. More recent data from the Trade Representative would be nice, but now could be an opportunity to reclaim some of that goods market share.

Top U.S. exports to Canada, as of 2019 data from the Trade Representative, are vehicles ($52 billion), machinery ($45 billion), electrical machinery ($25 billion), mineral fuels ($25 billion), and plastics ($13 billion). But suppliers of other types of goods shouldn’t feel exports to Canada should be limited to those categories by any means.

Here’s a list of Canada’s top 10 imports as of 2022, according to World’s Top Imports:

  1. Machinery including computers: US$80.2 billion (14.1% of total imports)
  2. Vehicles: $78.8 billion (13.9%)
  3. Electrical machinery, equipment: $53 billion (9.3%)
  4. Mineral fuels including oil: $44.8 billion (7.9%)
  5. Plastics, plastic articles: $22.5 billion (4%)
  6. Pharmaceuticals: $20 billion (3.5%)
  7. Gems, precious metals: $19 billion (3.3%)
  8. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $14.5 billion (2.6%)
  9. Articles of iron or steel: $14.1 billion (2.5%)
  10. Iron, steel: $11.1 billion (2%)

But whatever your product, now could be a good time to look for a trade partner in Canada. And Universal Cargo is always happy to help you export there or to other countries around the world.

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