Unifor strike shuts down St. Lawrence Seaway

SLSMC says it's working 'to find fair and competitive labour agreement'

Unifor strike shuts down St. Lawrence Seaway

Almost 400 Unifor workers went on strike Monday morning due to wage negotiation breakdown, shutting down a crucial North American freight shipping route.

For months the union had been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement on behalf of St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) employees in engineering, operations, maintenance and administration. The workers keep the “longest deep-draft navigation system in the world” accessible to cargo ships through a 3,700-kilometre network of locks, bridges and canals, involving over 100 commercial ports and wharves on the Great Lakes in Canada and the U.S.

Negotiations went right up to the last moment; just after the deadline of midnight Oct. 21, the union announced the walkout. Negotiations centred around wages, and the union said at the time of deadline that it and the employer were “1,000 nautical miles apart on wages.”

“It’s really up to the employer at this point to seal this deal and avoid any transit disruption,” said Daniel Cloutier, Unifor Quebec Director in a statement announcing the strike plan.

“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 wellbeing of seafarers and their cargo. They are irreplaceable.”

After rejecting a tentative agreement on Aug. 1, supervisory and engineering Unifor members aligned with maintenance, operative and administrative member groups to issue a collective strike notice on Oct. 18, expressing “deep dissatisfaction” with the continued disputes.

“Employers have seen that workers will absolutely use their right to strike when they feel it’s necessary, and our members in all units at the Seaway have had enough,” said Lana Payne, Unifor National President.

“It’s time to come to the table with a serious wage offer or the employer can watch what happens when workers stand together and demand their fair share.”

SLSMC working ‘to find fair and competitive labour agreement’

SLSMC released its own statement Sunday, stating that union representatives have “minimally moved from their initial and consistent position on their wage demands”.

“The parties are at an impasse as Unifor continues to insist on wage increases inspired by automotive-type negotiations, while the SLSMC works to find a fair and competitive labour agreement that balances wage demands and market realities,” the press release stated.

It also confirmed that the Seaway will remain closed until the parties can reach an agreement.

“The stakes are high, and we are fully dedicated to finding a resolution that serves the interests of the Corporation and its employees. We remain committed to continuing discussions and reaching a fair labour agreement,” said SLSMC CEO and president Terence Bowles.

“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 between North America and the remainder of the world.”

The SLSMC has applied to the Canada Industrial Relations Board for the union to provide relief workers during the strike, under the Canada Labour Code.

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