In an unexpected turn of events, the St. Lawrence Seaway operations came to a grinding halt last Sunday as hundreds of personnel ceased their job operations. The immediate aftermath saw the impactful interruption to cargo transit along the Montreal-Lake Erie route.
Upon the expiry of the strike deadline, the workers’ union reported their failure to find common ground with the management, despite prolonged discussions till the eleventh hour. Quebec director of Unifor, Daniel Cloutier, expressed their resistance to compromising workers’ rights. He indicated their willingness to keep the dialogue open, urging the employer to revisit their stance for everyone’s betterment.
The bone of contention in these discussions was wages, according to the union. It claimed that the company and the workers were still considerably far apart on this issue. While recognizing the highly trained nature of the work and its associated risks and responsibilities, Cloutier emphasized the irreplaceability of their jobs.
Responding to this, the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) issued a statement expressing an unfortunate deadlock, mainly due to Unifor insisting on pay hikes, a strategy likened to the automotive sector. It affirmed the Seaway will remain inactive until the dispute is resolved.
Terence Bowles, president and CEO of SLSMC, stated that the current challenging economic and geopolitical conditions necessitate the Seaway’s functionality as a trustworthy pathway for essential cargo transit. He pledged their commitment to resolve the issue to continue serving the corporation and its employees’ interest.
Alluding to the significance of cargo movement in North America’s economy and supply chain, spokesperson Jean Aubry-Morin expressed serious concerns over grain shipment impacts. In today’s challenging times, where grain supply is affected by Ukraine’s situation and frequent extreme weather episodes, this labour dispute could exacerbate the commodity’s dire need.
The SLSMC has submitted an application to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, seeking confirmation for the Canadian Labour Code application concerning grain movement amidst a strike.
The statement confirmed a system shutdown during the 72-hour notice period, enabling vessels to safely exit the Seaway system. However, the situation affects more than a hundred vessels outside the system.
These negotiations involved five local unions, representing 360 employees ranging from engineers to administrators. Their discourse with the managerial authority went on till the preceding Saturday night, following a 72-hour strike notice earlier on Wednesday. These dialogues have been underway since June, aided by a federal mediator.
Last year, the St. Lawrence Seaway facilitated transit for approximately $16.7 billion worth of cargo, including grain and iron ore, over its network of locks, canals, and channels stretching over 300 kilometers.