CWU: Port workers will strike
The Reporter, 26 March 2000
Sixty-seven Port Authority waterfront workers may go on strike in three weeks, if their dispute with the port's management and commissioner is not resolved.
The Christian Workers Union Wednesday notified Ports Commissioner John Watson of the worker's intention to strike, giving three weeks notice as they are required to do under the Essential Services Act.
Watson challenged the CWU's mandate to call a strike, saying he had reliable information that only 32 percent of Port's total employees were in favour of industrial action when the issue was put to a vote at a meeting of workers and staff last week.
The CWU cites the failure of the port management, and Watson, in particular, to meet with the union to renegotiate a new collective agreement for the waterfront workers.
The previous agreement, which has been in effect since February 1998, expired this February.
CWU President James McFoy complained that the union has been trying for the past six months to get management to the negotiating table, but to no avail.
In a press release issued Wednesday, union executives called on government to replace Watson.
"I am acting on instructions from...Ports Authority, which instructed me to terminate the previous dock workers agreement on Dec. 31, 2000 and to seek a single agreement for all employees," Watson said, adding that the union executive agreed to go forward with a single agreement when he met with them last December.
The board later reversed its decision, said Watson, and instructed him to let the existing agreement remain in effect until a new agreement is negotiated.
In a letter to McFoy on Wednesday, Watson expressed his surprise at the notice of industrial action, as the CWU has had a draft proposal for a new agreement for the past three months without offering any comments or suggested amendments.
The CWU accused Capt. Watson of being rude and of walking out of their last meeting on Jan. 12.
"After 45 minutes, I said we are making no progress, so I closed the meeting and we left," Watson said.
He added that this was because the union officials had changed their minds about pursuing a single agreement for the 67 workers and 140 staff, and instead wished to discuss a dock workers' agreement only. Watson said he had no mandate from the Board to discuss the dock workers' agreement alone.
Union officials say that they had wished to negotiate a 12 percent wage increase, as pertaining to the previous dock workers agreement, which has a clause that wage increases be negotiated annually.
Watson counters the union's intractability on the new draft agreement by pointing out that the workers and staff were 90 percent in favour of a joint collective agreement for all port employees, when the issue was put to the ballot at a meeting of employees and dock workers last week, even though the CWU has not officially advised him of the results of the ballot.
Capt. Watson's letter on Wednesday was conciliatory, saying that the new agreement would include many improvements in terms and conditions for all port employees, including the introduction of a pension fund and increased retirement and sickness benefits. The costs of the improvements would be met by the Ports Authority.
In response to the union?s call for his replacement, Watson said, "I cannot understand it. I have been a member of a trade union, and I support trade unionism. Any rumour that I am trying to destroy the union is total falsehood."
Watson's letter extended an invitation to the CWU management to schedule another meeting to discuss the new agreement and other matters outstanding which would be linked to the new agreement.
CWU executive members met Thursday to consider Capt. Watson's offer, and decided to go ahead with the industrial action. The decision has yet to be put to the union members, who will have the final say.