Friday, June 6, 2014

Seaspan, Unions Agree to Federal Mediation

By Mark Edward Nero

Vancouver, British Columbia-based shipbuilder Seaspan has apparently averted a strike by its tugboat crewmembers, at least for the time being, by agreeing to enter federal mediation/arbitration.

Following extensive discussions with the Canadian Labor Minister Kellie Leitch, Seaspan announced June 3 that it has signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Canadian Merchant Service Guild, agreeing to enter mediation.

This announcement comes after more than eight months of collective agreement negotiations between Seaspan and the Guild, which began Oct. 21, 2013.

Seaspan has also been negotiating with International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents deckhands and cooks on Seaspan tug crews.

As part of the agreement, Seaspan says it will also defer unilateral implementation of a new collective agreement, which was scheduled to take effect June 9. However, the membership of the Guild, which consists of about 200 captains, mates and engineers on Seaspan tugs, went ahead with a previously planned June 4 strike vote, with a “very clear majority” casting ballots in favor of a strike, according to Capt. Mike Armstrong, the Guild’s western branch president.

That being the case though, the Guild hasn’t served Seaspan with a strike notice and has told its members to continue performing their duties as usual for the time being.

“The Negotiation Committee is in favor of continuing to explore the use of mediated arbitration to resolve this dispute,” Armstrong said in a memo to Guild members following the strike vote.

The new seven-year contract would give tug crew members annual one percent pay increases the first four years, followed by 1.5 percent raises the next three years. But among the sticking points, the union says, are Seaspan’s desire to gain more flexibility to contract work out, the ability to revise shift schedules and to slash benefits costs by more than half.

On June 3, ILWU Local 400 voted unanimously in favor of striking, however the local’s president, Terry Engler said he was hopeful that discussions with the labor minister and Seaspan would lead to an agreement.