ILWU Local 500 Despatch History — Overview

ILWU Local 500, its Officers, Executive, and Membership are duty bound by the Declaration of Principles in its Constitution:

“Equality amongst men and women the brotherhood and sisterhood of workers are birthrights of the highest order. We guarantee equality of opportunity within our Union and shall strive to promote universal solidarity everywhere.”

Guided by these profound commitments to equality, the Local entered into many sets of negotiations with the BCMEA right up to present day. The collective agreement has been effective in meeting the needs of the parties, with the understandings that world trade and the resulting shipping requirements will always fluctuate.
There were many tradeoffs over the years, but there were always benchmarks of language to acknowledge the needs of each party.

Under Article 2 – Cooperation, we see another long term commitment over many collective agreements to equality:

2.02: “The Association undertakes that preferential employment will be given Union members to ensure full work opportunities with due regard to the competence, fitness and ratings of the employees concerned, the safety of the operation and the avoidance of onerous individual work burden and individual speed-up.”

In the present set of negotiations the BCMEA proposed an amendment to Article 9 – Despatch and Control of the Work Force as follows:

“#1 Amend by providing for a modernized Despatch in Vancouver”; and

“#7 (Delete) “Cancellations by telephone are prohibited.”

It should be noted at this time that Article 9 reflects on all longshore locals of ILWU Canada, not just Vancouver. The Joint Port Despatch Committee (Vancouver) was expunged with the 1992 signing of Black Book Document #32. Their duties were reassigned to the Port Labour Relations Committee, Joint Industry Labour Relations, and the Industry Arbitrator as the need arose. Local 500 believes that to propose such an amendment to Article 9 through negotiations without fully engaging Black Book #32 in a reasonable and timely way is not appropriate, not proper, and disregards the spirit and intent of the agreement.
Looking at the specific language under Article 9, Section 1:

“The following despatch principles shall apply:
1. The despatching systems in effect as of the date of the execution of this Agreement shall be maintained, including the present arrangements for the regular reporting to work of Union members regularly employed on docks, except where they conflict with this Agreement or current practices, existing Despatch Rules and Regulations including ordering times shall be continued until any new jointly agreed despatch systems, Rules and Regulations are established.”

It is obvious from the plain reading of the Collective Agreement that unless changes are jointly agreed to they cannot, or will not, go ahead.

At its own expense, the BCMEA has developed new despatch technologies with some presentations to Local Officers and Executive. The BCMEA seems ever poised to implement these changes unilaterally and has threatened lockout of the Industry should Local 500 not agree with its implementation. The fact is that Local 500 is willing to proceed to implement mutually acceptable changes as confirmed by the recently achieved “Membership adopted”
Letters of Understanding on the issue.

Further along in Article 9, Section 6:

“6. The Despatch system in all ports will be conducted in such manner as to ensure uniform observances of the following:
(a) preferential employment of Union members to ensure full work opportunities on ship and dock with due regard to the competence, fitness and ratings of the employees concerned, the safety of the operation and the avoidance of onerous individual work burden and individual speed-up;
(b) recognition of the principle that registered Union members available for work will be despatched on a fair and equitable basis, first within their own category or categories, then to other work, subject to persons being required to service their rating(s). Welfare Plan Casuals will be similarly despatched;
(d) no favouritism or unfair discrimination in the hiring, despatch or employment of any Union member or employee;
(f) there be an equitable distribution in despatch of registered Union members throughout employers’ operations on each shift.”

Clearly preference, fairness, equity, no favouritism and no discrimination are the underpinning principles of the Agreement as developed over the years.
On February 2, 2007, the Negotiations Sub-committee “Modernization of the ILWU Local 500 Despatch” met to review the BCMEA Vancouver Despatch Proposal as presented by Greg Vurdela, BCMEA Director of Information Services and Corporate Secretary.

Page 2 speaks to skills, time, fairness, equity and transparency.
Skills Timing: The Union has met its responsibilities through the concerted efforts of the Local Vice President’s office to accommodate the massive increase of new recruits to the waterfront and the taking of key ratings to lower casual boards. Success has been consistently demonstrated and is reflected in the BCMEA 2006 Annual Report.

On the other hand, the BCMEA, with respect to trades shortages, has been unwilling or unable to make the necessary progress. The Local Executive and the Chair of the Local’s Trades Committee have forwarded many tradespeople’s résumés to the BCMEA, especially heavy duty mechanics, millwrights and electricians. The BCMEA has been slow in engaging these tradespeople on the terminals.

The Local also put forward a comprehensive Apprenticeship Program paper to accommodate future trades demands. It was initialed by the Local 500 President and a senior Labour Relations Manager for the BCMEA only to be shelved to collect dust.
The Union has been guided by Article 14 – Automation Protection Provisions. Other references in the Collective Agreement adhered to by the Union to address skills and appropriate training to that end are:

  • Article 2 – Cooperation [2.02]
  • Article 8 – Training [8.01]
  • Article 9 – Despatch and Control of the Work Force [2(a) & 6(a)]
  • Article 21 – Hours of Work [21.03 (9)]
  • Article 26 – Dock Work [26.01 (6) last paragraph]

The Black Book follows along with the Collective Agreement to reinforce or accommodate
interim measures:

  • #31 – Joint Industry Training Rules
  • #59 – Tradesmen Training
  • #60 – Training Casual Employees
  • #61 – Training Simulator
  • #76 – Neptune Dry Bulk Agreement
  • #77 – Night Shift Despatch Local 502
  • #78 – Night Shift Despatch Local 500
  • #84 – Deep Sea Ship Gangs (Vancouver)

With the above references in the Collective Agreement and the Black Book, not only has the Union participated fully with the employer to cover skills, we have done so in a timely manner. The Union’s signature on Black Book documents gives our assurance to cover existing practices and cover potential situations over the years. In summary, for the Employers’ Proposal: “Skills at the Right Time”, the Union has met its responsibilities.

All the Time: If one reads the Letters of Understanding dated February 14 and 16, 2007, the minutes of Employer/Union meetings, and reads the Association’s year end Report it is plain and obvious that the Union willingly, without precedent or prejudice, accommodated the despatching requirements. Without the Union’s physical presence and timely interventions at the Despatch Hall the terminals and vessels would have suffered many more shortages.

The Industry is enjoying expanding growth and volumes of cargo therefore requiring new equipment and refitted and updated terminals. The Union (Local 500) made good.

The previously mentioned, mutually agreed to “Letters of Understanding” allowed and assisted the Employer to introduce a swipe card, display screen, automated despatch slip and a screen display model setup on the Casual side of the despatch hall to facilitate “All the Time” despatches.
With adoption by Local 500 Membership and the introduction of two Union Administrative Despatch Coordinators by Letters of Understanding, the Employer was able to introduce “plastic” despatch plates to the Union side. This mutual agreement has brought added “data” room on the plates, facilitated info to cover shortages, and brought a timely flow of information to the Casual side.
Presently Local 500 has pre-despatch in the following categories: Lines, Regular Gangs, Checkers, First Aid, Squamish Complement (IVR). These groups already take assignments by phone and proceed directly to their dock terminal or ship for the following day. Both parties enjoy the efficiencies and have appropriate methods to resolve any problems through contract and Black Book language.

By their own submission the BCMEA states that “30 days a year we have massive shortages” but they seem entirely focused on “despatch procedures” and modernization” to resolve this problem.

Five to six years ago, because of slowdowns in international trading patterns at the time, the BCMEA did not have the foresight to set up talks with the Union about the “future of Industry” — training requirements, recruiting process to replace “early retirees”, and people going into the Foremen’s Local. All locals on the coast have been available when notified, to travel to cover shortages. The Union therefore questions the “urgency” of further “modernization” inside this set of Negotiations.

There are 33 ports on the US west coast where the Union despatches the work force. There are 4 areas of despatch on the west coast of Canada: New Westminster (Union despatch); Vancouver Island (Union despatch); Prince Rupert (Union despatch); and Vancouver (non-union despatch). Prior to the amalgamation of the Vancouver ILWU Locals into Local 500 in 1966, Local 507 (Grainlining), Local 509 (Coastwise) and 512 (Warehouse) maintained their own despatches separate from the despatch operated out of the Shipping Federation’s offices on Dunlevy.

Local 500 has taken the historical position of requiring a “unionized” despatch hall and has supported 3 organizing drives which were not successful. Evidence and witnesses are available in these matters. These failed attempts at unionizing the despatch hall did nothing for either party in developing early, mutually agreeable tech changes and modernization in a timely manner prior to this extreme growth of volumes era.

Fair, Equitable, Transparent with Union Participation are the final words in the BCMEA mission statement on their modernization of despatch proposal. We assert that ILWU Local 500 has not been invited to fully participate in the development of the Employer proposal as envisioned by Article 9 in the context of the Spirit and Intent (Article1). Because of this fact we are reacting, not developing. This has been to the detriment of suitable Union Committees, departments, and Union Trainers. The Employer, by the machinespecific/site specific proposal, is trying to devolve into individual “on-line” sessions whether for health and safety, training or despatch anomalies.

These directions are obviously stated in their proposal:

  • page 4, bullet #4
  • page 6, bullet #4
  • page 14 – B. “Site and machine specific” “training at specific sites”.
  • page 15 – A. “employees . . . must travel to the site for health and safety.”
  • page 15 – B. “on line training.”
  • page 16 – “on line site orientation machine specific.”

Historically, training and safety have been accomplished jointly, in groups, for positive feedback and reinforcement thus promoting safety, fairness, equity and transparency. The “on-line individualism” presently envisioned by the Association will do nothing but allow BCMEA staff to give non-expert opinions and exercise “unilateral influence and control” over the workforce while Union officers, committees, shop stewards, and trainers will be relegated to minor roles. It is obvious the Employers’ proposals go further than just despatch timeliness. They go to the core of the Union/Management relationship in stark contrast to historical and current relationships.


The BCMEA has failed over the last 10 years to obtain and accurately analyze international trends on the flow of products and commodities and the developing technologies required to deal with changing cargo handling methods.

Port terminal expansion requirements have been at the shortsighted whims of the BCMEA Training Directors and Vice Presidents’ of Human Resources and Operations with the complicity of the terminal operators. During this same time period the Government pulled back from port land acquisition, retention and management for future needs of access networks (rail & road) to the port lands. Timely recruitment consideration of demographics and training needs were left wanting.

Opportunities to utilize “volunteer status” for an aging work force to help in times of shortages were turned down by the BCMEA. The BCMEA’s quest for a modernization of despatch cannot fix ten years of neglect and ill-considered decisions.

Local 500 is prepared to reconvene the Port Despatch Committee between contracts to provide a forum to develop modifications for efficiencies where mutually advantageous.

For example, for approximately the last 15 years Los Angeles has automated a full Union despatch and provides for “remote plug-in” and jobs picked up at the despatch hall. They serve 18,000 members and casuals in an inherently more congested region. That system serves both parties and port efficiencies and is ongoing. By comparison, the Association’s proposal is open-ended, unlimited, and directly impinges on
many articles of the Collective Agreement, Black Book, and current despatch procedures.

Only by truly working with the Union, inside of our stated parameters, will we proceed to secure and supply the opportunities of and for Port development and the ensuing labour requirements. The Union’s proposal is in harmony with the Canada Labour Code‘s Preamble promoting common well-being and supporting free collective bargaining as the bases of effective industrial relations.

Glenn Bolkowy, Peter Haines, Rob Ashton, Dave Pritchett