Montreal Dockworkers Reject Contract Proposal as Truce Expires

longshoremen reject contract proposal
Port of Montreal (file photo)

Published Mar 22, 2021 5:53 PM by The Maritime Executive

After more than two years without a contract and seven months after a strike that crippled Canada’s second busiest port, Montreal’s longshoremen unanimously rejected the contract proposal from the Maritime Employers Association. The no vote along with the expiration of a seven-month truce raised the possibility of a strike at the Port of Montreal.

The often contentious negotiations are between the union and the association which employs the dockworkers on behalf of the terminals that handle containers as well bulk cargos ranging from oil to fertilizer and iron ore. One of the central issues is the dockworkers' schedule of 19-days-on and two-days off that the union contends is especially hard on the work-life balance of the workers.

Last July, the dockworkers staged a 40-hour work stoppage to call attention to the fact that they had been working since the beginning of 2019 without a collective bargaining agreement. A month later they went on strike for 10 days causing significant disruption to ship operations all along the east coast of Canada. Containerships diverted to Halifax creating a backlog as the alternative ports sought to handle the increased volume.

The union and association agreed to a seven-month truce that got the workers back on the job while new negotiations were scheduled overseen by mediators. The talks were suspended when in early March the mediators summoned both sides back to the negations. On March 12, the employer’s association submitted a comprehensive offer in effect putting an end to the bargaining process.

The union held a general meeting to vote on the employer’s offer, which was soundly rejected by 99.71 percent of the dockworkers. Of the 1,120 members of the union, 1,023 voted with only two voting yes and one abstaining. A total of 1,020 dockworkers rejected the employer’s offer.

“Our members also voted 98 percent symbolically to demand that the employer return to the bargaining table. We’ll be calling the mediators tonight. Our objective is to return to the table to get a negotiated agreement,” said union representative Michel Murray.

According to Statistics Canada, the backlogs and delays caused by the strikes by longshoremen in 2020 cost wholesalers nearly US$500 million in sales over the two months. In addition, a survey conducted in August 2020 by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business reported that 40 percent of Quebec small and medium businesses reported they suffered negative impacts due to the strikes.

The work stoppages caused more than twenty container ships to divert impacting the movement of approximately 80,000 TEUs. The Port of Montreal says It took more than three months to bridge the delays and return to normal operations.

For the time being, the union says it does not intend to submit a strike notice, a mandatory step in bringing about a work stoppage. Carriers however are not taking a chance already diverted some vessels to different east coast ports and advising shippers to consider alternative arrangements.