Inside Logistics

Employers, striking dockworkers reach truce, Montreal port to reopen

The deal lays out a seven-month period to continue contract talks while port operations carry on without the threat of work stoppage

August 21, 2020
by Christopher Reynolds THE CANADIAN PRESS

MONTREAL – Employers and dockworkers at the Port of Montreal have reached a truce after a 12-day strike, paving the way for Canada’s second-largest port to reopen Sunday.

The two sides have agreed to halt a labour action that has left thousands of containers languishing on the docks. The deal lays out a seven-month period to continue contract talks while port operations carry on without the threat of work stoppage.

“We are confident that we will be able to reach a deal between now and that … time,” Maritime Employers Association CEO Martin Tessier said at a news conference Friday.

If an agreement is not reached by March 20, the workers can again exercise their right to strike.

The last few days saw tensions rise after employers said they were prepared to bring in replacement workers to move some of the 11,500 containers that have piled up on the waterfront – particularly those with essential goods, perishable food products or items linked to the fight against COVID-19.

However, the parties hashed out a truce after talking late into the night Thursday and Friday morning.

“It’s very important for me … I haven’t really seen my daughters for three weeks,” said Michel Murray, a spokesman for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

“The struggle was emotional for both parties.”

In a show of mutual confidence, the press conference Friday afternoon was held jointly for the first time in a half century, Tessier said.

Both sides say they have agreed not to speak to the media about the progress toward a collective agreement, allowing more breathing room for the negotiators.

Friday’s announcement turned the page on a novel’s worth of transport drama over the past 10 months, punctuated by a CN rail strike in November, track blockades in February and the pandemic, which triggered sharp declines in cargo volume.

The 1,125 longshore workers, who have been without an agreement since September 2018, say the strike revolved largely around wages and scheduling.

Federal Labour Minister Filomena Tassi had refused to intervene in the negotiations, citing her belief in the bargaining process despite calls from industry groups and the Ontario and Quebec governments for more direct involvement.

The employers have also reached an agreement in principle for a renewed collective agreement with the port’s 150-odd checkers, who are responsible for logging the cargo loaded and unloaded from hundreds of ships each year.

Members of the International Longshoremen’s Association local, on strike since Aug. 10, will hold a ratification vote on the deal Monday, Tessier said.

It will take two to four weeks to move the accumulated containers and bulk goods off the terminals and onto trucks, trains and ships, he said.

The union and employers plan to establish back-to-work protocols Saturday, with operations set to resume at 7 a.m. Sunday.

The strike diverted at least eight container ships to Halifax, Saint John, N.B., and New York City, impacting thousands of importers and exporters and halting most of the 2,500 trucks that roll in and out of the port daily, according to the Maritime Employers Association.