Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Seaspan, Unions Enter Binding Arbitration

By Mark Edward Nero

Vancouver, British Columbia-based shipbuilder Seaspan on June 14 formally signed agreements with both the Canadian Merchant Service Guild and International Longshore Warehouse Union Local 400 to enter into binding arbitration/mediation to settle a labor dispute.

“Following extensive discussions with the Honorable Kellie Leitch, Minister of Labor and Minister of the Status of Women, Seaspan and both unions have agreed to allow the federal government to appoint an arbitrator who will run the process and be responsible for setting the terms of reference,” Seaspan announced in a news release.

Once the arbitration is complete, the outcome is binding and cannot be challenged by Seaspan or the unions. As part of the agreement, Seaspan has agreed to forgo new contract terms the company had planned to implement on June 9, and both unions have agreed not to strike.

The new seven-year contract would have given 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 were Seaspan’s desire to gain more flexibility to outsource work, the ability to revise shift schedules and to slash benefits costs by more than half.

Now the contract is on hold as a new deal is being mediated.

“I am very pleased with this outcome,” Seaspan CEO Jonathan Whitworth said. “We look forward to working with both unions and the government appointed arbitrator to bring the contract negotiations to a close as quickly as possible.”

Arbitration comes after more than eight months of collective agreement negotiations between Seaspan and the Merchant Service Guild, which began Oct. 21, 2013. Membership of the Guild consists of about 200 captains, mates and engineers on Seaspan tugs.

Seaspan had also been negotiating with ILWU Local 400, which represents deckhands and cooks on Seaspan tug crews. 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.