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Strike Paralyzes Port of Montreal Despite Calls for Government Action

Port of Montreal paralyzed by a general strike
Picketers blocking the Port of Montreal - Syndicat des débardeurs - SCFP Section Locale 375

By The Maritime Executive 08-11-2020 06:01:11

Operations at the Port of Montreal, Canada's second busiest port, remain suspended for a second day as longshoremen with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) continued their general strike against their employer the Maritime Employers Association (MEA). The unlimited strike comes after the union staged a four-day strike and a 40-hour walkout in July attempting to call attention to its lack of a contract for the past 18-months.

Saying that she had faith in the collective bargaining process, Canada’s labor minister issued a statement that the government was declining to intervene in the strike at this time.This is despite calls from business groups across the province on Monday for the government to get involved. The groups said they feared that the impact on an economy already weakened by the pandemic could be devastating to both the provincial and federal economies.  

Citing their lack of a contract since the beginning of 2019, along with their grievances over wages, work schedules, and working conditions, the 1,125 longshoremen, foreman, and maintenance worker members of the CUPE served notice last Friday of the official intent to strike if an agreement could not be reached by Sunday, August 9. The 150-member International Longshoremen Association also served notice that it would be joining the strike.

Berthing service and the handling of goods normally provided by the longshoremen officially stopped at 7 a.m. on Monday, although the Port of Montreal said that liquid bulk handling, grain, and the shipment of goods to Labrador and Newfoundland would continue. Shippers, however, reportedly began diverting their vessels to ports including Halifax and Saint John in Canada as well as to New York as early as last week. The shipping liners were also warning customers to expect delays in shipments for the duration of the strike.

For its part, the MEA called the action disappointing noting that there have been 65 negotiating sessions since September 2018 but they remained at an impasse. They said despite the “numerous pressure tactics set in place by the union” they continued to favor amicable negotiations and urged the union to intensify the pace of the negations citing the potential for considerably harm to the recovery of normal operations. According to the Canadian Press, the employers association said that the solution lies in a “truce that would result in binding arbitration if no agreement is reached after two months.”

Saying that union had no other alternative, they cited arbitrary changes imposed by the MEA and in effect a technical lockout as ships began to divert from the port.  “We issued a strike notice on Friday to restore balance in our discussions, while at the same time offering a truce to open the port and have the parties focus on negotiating a collective agreement,” explained Michel Murray, the CUPE union representative. “The MEA, the shipping companies, and shipping lines are the only entities responsible for closing the port and keeping it closed. The union will continue negotiations before a mediator and will keep the channel of communications open between the parties to achieve a possible truce.”

Negotiations were reported to be continuing between the two sides with sessions scheduled for the remainder of the week.The Labor Minister also said that federal mediation teams have met with both sides in the past and remain present and available to help with the talks.