St. Lawrence Seaway workers begin strike action, union says

The St. Lawrence Seaway has shut down as hundreds of workers walked off the job Sunday.

The halt is expected to affect cargo shipments immediately along the artery that runs between Montreal and Lake Erie.

In a release shortly after midnight on Sunday, the union said they were unable to reach an agreement with the employer by the strike deadline, despite negotiations “right up to the last moment.”

“We cannot allow workers’ rights to be compromised. We remain open to discussion and hope that the employer will reconsider its position for the good of all,” Daniel Cloutier, Unifor’s Quebec director, said in a release.

Seeking wage increases

The union said this week that it remained “1,000 nautical miles apart” from management on wages — the key wedge in discussions — and that it was up to the employer to avoid any transit disruption.

“These are jobs that require intense training, a high level of understanding of the health and safety risks, and that carry enormous responsibility for the well-being of seafarers and their cargo. They are irreplaceable,” Cloutier said in an earlier release.

In its own statement released after midnight, the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) said the parties are at an impasse as Unifor “continues to insist on wage increases inspired by automotive-type negotiations,” and the seaway will remain shut down until an agreement can be reached.

Striking workers hold signs and flags on a picket line.
St. Lawrence Seaway workers are pictured on the picket line early Sunday morning after deciding to go on strike. (Unifor)

“The stakes are high, and we are fully dedicated to finding a resolution that serves the interests of the corporation and its employees,” SLSMC president and CEO Terence Bowles said in a statement.

“In these economically and geopolitically critical times, it is important that the seaway remains a reliable transportation route for the efficient movement of essential cargoes.”

Slow progress in talks

The SLSMC said on Friday that it remained committed to negotiating in good faith, but also said progress had been slow and the union’s wage demands could lead to higher tolls.

On Wednesday, it cited the potential impact on freight shipments as a major concern.

“Cargo movements through the seaway are an important part of the North American economy and supply chain,” said spokesperson Jean Aubry-Morin.

“In particular, this labour action would impact grain movements during a period when the world is in dire need of this essential commodity, even as supply has been affected by the situation in Ukraine and the greater frequency of extreme weather events being experienced around the world.”

The corporation said it is waiting for a response to its application to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, seeking an order to confirm the application of the Canada Labour Code related to the movement of grain during a strike.

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