St. Lawrence Seaway Shut Down as Workers Hit the Picket Lines

by | Oct 23, 2023 | Business

St. Lawrence Seaway workers started strike action on Sunday, Oct. 23 shutting down the seaway, an Oct. 22 news release said. The decision to start walking the picket lines was made after contract negotiations failed to reach a satisfactory agreement between the two sides.

“This impasse is extremely unfortunate but our members remain committed to getting a fair agreement,” Lana Payne, Unifor national president, said in a release.

The 72-hour strike notice was filed on Oct. 18, and despite sustained negotiating efforts, no resolution was reached before the Oct. 21 at 11:59 p.m. EDT deadline.

An Oct. 22 news release from the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) stated Unifor has minimally moved from its wage demands position, and as a result, Unifor locals 4211, 4319, 4212, 4323 and 4320 are now on strike with the seaway shut down until an agreement can be reached.

“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,” Terence Bowles, SLSMC president and CEO, said in the release. “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.”

SLSMC noted in it’s release that the parties are at an impasse as Unifor is asking for wage increases inspired by automotive-type negotiations, while SLSMC wants to find a fair and competitive labour agreement that balances wage demands and market realities.

“We negotiated in good faith right up to the last moment, but 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 Quebec director, said in the Unifor release.

SLSMC is awaiting a response to its Canada Industrial Relations Board application, seeking a ruling under the Canada Labour Code for Unifor to provide employees during the strike to ensure vessels engaged in grain movement continue transiting the system, the SLSMC release said.

An orderly shutdown of the seaway system took place during the 72-hour strike notice period allowing for vessels to be safely cleared. There are currently no vessels waiting to exit the system but there are over 100 vessels outside the system impacted, the release noted.

This strike comes following the more than a month long strike at British Columbia’s ports which saw 7,200 port workers at roughly 30 B.C. ports walk off the job on July 1 and not return to work until after an agreement was reached on Aug. 4.

In an Oct. 23 news release Fertilizer Canada called on SLSMC and Unifor to promptly come to an agreement to end the strike. It noted fall is a crucial time in Eastern Canada for importing fertilizer shipments in preparation for spring.

“The fertilizer industry depends on reliable supply chains to get our products to farmers,” Karen Proud, president and CEO of Fertilizer Canada, said in the release. “Any disruption to the supply chain, even for a day or two, impedes our industry’s ability to deliver products in a timely manner.”

Fertilizer Canada noted this is the second labour dispute in the past four months which has shutdown Canadian ports. The organization called on the federal government to support the expeditious resolution of the strike.

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