Appeared in Business in Vancouver – March 25, 2014
The union struck, but classes continued.
No, not a BC Teachers’ Federation issue. This is the innovative “classroom” for B.C.’s longshore workers, created at remarkable speed in 2013 by the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA) – with an enviable level of co-operation by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) – which has stayed open while the strike of port truckers all but paralyzed the port of Vancouver. Its vision was set on the longer term when the truckers’ strike is history.
BCMEA president and CEO Andy Smith calls it “the best longshore training centre in North America, if not the world.”
It’s a glimmer of good news easily overlooked in the long-simmering dispute over port truck delivery delays.
In contrast, the rapid construction of the BCMEA’s $16 million Waterfront Training Centre for longshore workers on Mitchell Island is a textbook example of almost seamless co-operation not only between management and unions but also with local government, local builders and foreign suppliers.
“It was a huge leap forward with our union partner friends … who were outstandingly co-operative … truly unique in the global context,” said Smith, giving generous credit to John Beckett, the organization’s vice-president of training, safety and recruitment.
The project rocketed from crisp approval of the building permit by the City of Richmond to completion in six months, on schedule and under budget.
Terry Bertram, BCMEA’s manager of customer and government relations, traced the timeline:
Ground was broken on the 4.7-acre site on February 1, 2013. Tenders were opened March 4. The winning bidder was BEL Contracting. The facilities on the previous training site in North Vancouver were moved and a second classroom built by Britco. BuildWorks supplied the equipment storage shed.The $1.5 million pedestal crane that dominates the site is a Liebherr model, already proven on BCMEA member ships. Its slewing column and boom were built by Liebherr in Sunderland, United Kingdom, and its base column, boom rest and star base in Rostock, Germany. The Sunderland parts were shipped by Star Lima via the Panama Canal to the Fraser Surrey Docks.
Allied Crane completed the installation in less than a week.
The facility was built by August and officially opened last September 23.
The training equipment includes 11 lift trucks, two tractor-trailers, the mobile crane, front-end loader and front-end loader and bulldozer simulators. A dock gantry crane will be delivered in 2015 – BCMEA directors recently approved up to $11 million to buy a Kocks (Kranunion) Boxer 4000 ship-to-shore crane.
Longshore workers’ skills have come a long way from when longshoremen – only males needed apply then – were typically larger on brawn than brains, and many spoke little English.
They learned on the job through trial and often costly error. Mishandling a container or any mistake has a dollar sign attached to it. BCMEA is fully committed to human rights, and women and men face the same physical and math and literacy tests. Last year the industry-wide Joint Industry Labour Relations Subcommittee handled – successfully – the only outstanding grievance. There had been five in 2012.
ILWU locals provide the trainees, who are paid while taking classes, training department manager Ted Vincent noted. Classes, each of about 40 trainees, run for up to 18 days, year-round. Longshore workers average around $40,000 per year for casuals that enter the industry and rise to an average of $95,000-plus per year for full-time union members, while foremen are paid an average of over $177,000.
© Trevor Lautens, 2014