Tentative agreement reached in Seaway strike

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by Emily Atkins

Ships will start moving through the St. Lawrence Seaway today, as a tentative agreement has brought the strike by Unifor workers to an end.

A deal between the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC)and Unifor workers was reached on October 29, after a week-long strike that began on October 22. Talks resumed on October 27.

“We have in hand an agreement that’s fair for workers and secures a strong and stable future for the Seaway,” said SLSMC president and CEO Terence Bowles, in a statement.

“We know that this strike has not been easy for anyone, and value the patience and cooperation of our marine industry bi-national partners; carriers, shippers, ports, local communities and all those who depend on this vital transportation corridor on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border”.

The agreement between the SLSMC and Unifor’s 360 unionized employees, will have to be ratified by employees in the coming days.

“For the first time in 55 years seaway workers took the very hard decision to go on strike. They did so to fight for a more respectful workplace and for an agreement that reflects today’s economic times,” said Lana Payne, Unifor national president.

“They have shown that the best deal is reached at the bargaining table, and I congratulate the committee on their outstanding work on behalf of their members.”

In a statement, the seaway said “We will begin to implement our recovery program immediately and will start passing ships progressively as of Monday October 30th, with the return-to-work of employees at 07:00 am.”

The resumption of ship traffic for ships waiting in queue will follow an established traffic management plan.

Numerous business groups concern about delays in getting essential cargo delivered during the strike.

“This labour dispute will have a major impact on our businesses. This is another interruption at the heart of the supply chain, and manufacturers are once again being held hostage,” said Dennis Darby, president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said small businesses were seriously affected by the long strike at BC ports and the supply chain disruptions it caused this summer. “The last thing the Canadian economy needs right now is another strike blocking a busy trade route and impacting businesses once again,” the advocacy group said in a statement.

CFIB asked the government to ensure that the St. Lawrence Seaway remains fully operational while negotiations continue. It also continues to call for federally regulated workers who are indispensable to the supply chain to be deemed essential workers to avoid similar strikes in the future. 

Both federal labour minister Seamus O’Regan and transport minister Pablo Rodriguez urged the parties to return to the table.

The seaway is a key economic artery for Quebec, Ontario and Eastern Canada. In 2022, about 36.3 million metric tons of cargo valued at $16.7 billion passed through the St. Lawrence Seaway’s infrastructure, generating a total of nearly $6 billion in economic activity and supporting over 42,000 jobs in Canada.