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U.S. cargo faces further delays as Vancouver port workers reject labor deal

Workers at the largest port in Canada, the Port of Vancouver on Friday rejected a proposed labor deal, creating doubt over possible trade with the United States. Photo by Simon Druker/UPI
1 of 4 | Workers at the largest port in Canada, the Port of Vancouver on Friday rejected a proposed labor deal, creating doubt over possible trade with the United States. Photo by Simon Druker/UPI

July 29 (UPI) -- Fresh doubts hung over North America's overseas trade on Saturday after workers at the largest port in Canada on rejected a proposed labor deal.

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in Vancouver, British Columbia, voted against the proposal on Friday during a two-day voting period.

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The tentative four-year deal was proposed by a federal mediator between the union and the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association, which will now seek further direction from the federal government.

The Port of Vancouver is the fourth-largest in North America by tons of cargo, and includes 57 separate berths across 29 marine terminals in British Columbia's Lower Mainland.

Workers have been disrupting operations for 14 days and Friday's news casts further uncertainty on commodities destined for U.S. companies. Some cargo is already being delayed by at least two months, impacting rail shipments to and from the port.

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"There are millions of dollars of chemicals stranded on the water. We have members waiting for chemicals to be unloaded in Vancouver and then railed down to Chicago," National Association of Chemical Distributors CEO Eric Byer told NBC News in an interview.

Hundreds of different chemicals routinely arrive through the Port of Vancouver and are taken by rail for U.S. distribution.

Further delays could ensue without a new agreement.

The ILWU Vancouver chapter's president Rob Ashton called for the BCMEA to return to the negotiating table but the association has not publicly commented.

The union remains in a position to issue a full strike notice within 72 hours.

"This state of uncertainty cannot continue. While our BC ports are operating right now, we need long term stability for the many workers and businesses that depend on them," Canadian Labor Minister Seamus O'Regan said in a statement Saturday.

"Our economy cannot face further disruption from this dispute."

O'Regan said he would consider dictating a new labor agreement or imposing binding arbitration between the two sides.

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