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St. Lawrence Seaway workers in Canada threaten strike


By Leo Ryan, Editor, Maritime Magazine

Unionized workers in Ontario and Quebec with the Cornwall-based St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLMSC) have voted overwhelmingly to launch a strike should negotiations for a new collective agreement not reach a deal by an October 21 deadline. Wage increase demands amidst current high inflation conditions have emerged as the biggest issue.

The members of Unifor Local 4212 and Local 4323 voted 99% in favour of a potential work stoppage.

The existing collective agreements expired on March 31, 2023.

The Canadian workers on the binational waterway linking the Atlantic Ocean to the industrial heart of North America last threatened to strike in 2014, with the introduction of hands-free mooring a key issue. But a compromise agreement averted a strike.

“Seaway workers manage the transit of more than 200 million tons of cargo each year and they deserve fair wages for the vital and challenging work they do,” said Lana Payne, Unifor National President. “The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, as a contractor of the federal government, must meet wage expectations and show these workers the value of their labour.”

Negotiations with the SLSMC began on June 19 and 20, with additional dates from September 25 through 29. The parties decided to use a federal mediator to facilitate discussions from the onset of bargaining.

“Workers are expecting wage increases, especially given the current cost of living, and they have made it clear that the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation hasn’t yet offered enough to settle this agreement,” said Daniel Cloutier, Quebec Regional Director. “The trade corridor doesn’t work without the workers – and they are demanding and deserving of respect.”

Bargaining is slated to resume October 17, 18 and 19.

SLSMC response

Responding to the news, the SLSMC stated: “The Corporation remains confident that a satisfactory resolution can be reached. The Unions will be in a position to provide 72-hours’ notice of a strike as early as October 18th.

“This means navigation could potentially be impacted as of October 21st . In the meantime, the Corporation has prepared a contingency plan to ensure an orderly shutdown of navigation in the event of a work interruption.”

 The Seaway agency added that it will keep vessel operators “advised of developments as events warrant. Should an upbound ship entering the MLO section of the Seaway opt to continue its transit after 00:01 on October 12th, the Corporation makes no representation whatsoever as to its ability to successfully transit the ship downbound and subsequently out of the system.”

(Photo SLSMC)