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Montreal Dockworkers Begin General Strike Against Container Terminals

Montreal dockworkers general strike
Dockwokers on strike in August 2020 (SCFP Locale 375 photo)

Published Apr 23, 2021 7:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

Dockworkers in Montreal announced that they are expanding their current partial strike into a general strike against the container terminal operations in the port. Workers who had already been refusing overtime assignments and weekend work will move to a general strike effective April 26 resulting in the total cessation of cargo handling and docking services normally provided by dockworkers in the Port of Montreal's terminals. Liquid bulk handling and the grain terminal will not be impacted by the strike.

Local 375 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees issued a statement saying that while the parties were still negotiating, their employer, the Maritime Employers’ Association that represents the terminal operators, announced that it was making changes to the dockworkers' schedules starting on Monday. According to the union, this was the second time in a week that the MEA changed their working conditions.

“If the Maritime Employers’ Association (MEA) doesn’t want a strike, all it has to do is let up on its pressure tactics and the union will do likewise. No overtime strike. No weekend strike. It’s straightforward. We want to return to the bargaining table,” said Michel Murray, spokesman for CUPE local 375.

The dockworkers have been without a contract since December 2018. At dispute are issues of wages and the work schedules of the longshoremen. Under the expired contract, the dockworkers' schedule is 19-days-on and two days off, which the union contends is especially hard on the work-life balance of the longshoremen.

The Montreal Port Authority issued a statement today saying that it, “deplores a situation that will seriously and tangibly impact the local population and small businesses due to a total shutdown of port operations for an indefinite period of time.” The port said that an unlimited general strike will disrupt a public infrastructure that serves millions of Quebecers and Canadians. 

The latest job actions began earlier in April after a truce negotiated to end a 19-day strike in August 2020 expired. The dockworkers stopped overtime and weekend work with the port authority reporting that “after a single weekend of stoppage, the impact was already significant with close to 10,000 TEUs grounded, a backlog, and delays in rail convoys, with shipping lines with vessels en route to Montreal obliged to rework their logistics.”

The Port of Montreal handles C$275 million worth of goods every day, ranging from agri-food products, pharmaceuticals, and construction equipment. The port authority says that economic studies found that a disruption incurs a loss of C$10 million to C$25 million per day for the economy. The August 2020 strike caused 20 vessels to divert primarily to Halifax and a total of 80,000 TEU were either diverted to competing ports or grounded.

Canadian businesses have called for the federal government to intervene to bring an end to the dispute while carriers have already begun rerouting cargo to other points because of the uncertain situation and the potential for a strike.