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Montreal Longshoremen Threaten Slowdown in Long Contract Dispute

work slowdown over labor dispute longshoremen port of Montreal
Port of Montreal (file photo)

Published Apr 12, 2021 7:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

Less than a month after the standstill agreements expired in the long-running dispute over a contract for Montreal’s dockworkers, both sides are again threatening actions that promise to disrupt operations at the busy port which handles containers, as well bulk cargos ranging from oil to fertilizer and iron ore. Canadian businesses are calling for the federal government to get involved while late today the mediator summoned both sides to return to the negotiations tomorrow morning.

The longshoremen who are employed by an association that represents the terminal operators have been without a contract since 2018. After staging several protests, the dockworkers conducted a 40-hour work stoppage in July 2020 followed by a strike that lasted two weeks in late August 2020. A truce was reached to bring them back to work, but that truce expired in late March 2021.

The Union of longshoremen of the port of Montreal (CUPE 375) sent a notice on April 10 saying that they would begin a partial strike as of April 13. The longshoremen said they will work their normal eight-hour shifts Monday to Friday, including evening and night shifts, but that they will reject all overtime or extended shifts. In addition, starting April 17 they plan to reject all weekend work. The union said this was intended to pressure the Maritime Employers Association while minimizing the disturbance to businesses moving goods through the port.

“Last Friday, after a good week of negotiations where the work was going well, we were surprised to receive a notice from the employer that in 72 hours, that is to say from Tuesday, he was exercising his right to lockout,” contended Michel Murray, CUPE union advisor, at a press event in Montreal on Monday. “When the management party left the negotiating table on Friday, they gave no sign that they were going to do so. We still believe in negotiation and look forward to a return to the table," concluded Murray.

The MEA said that it was dropping the income guarantee for longshoremen and that action was being taken after the port’s revenues dropped significantly in March after the union threatened new labor actions at the end of the truce period. Volumes at the port declined 11 percent in March as shippers began diverting cargo to other ports due to the uncertainties and potential of a new labor action says the MEA.

Canada’s manufacturers repeated their appeals to the federal government to get involved in the long simmer dispute and to take action to prevent labor actions. Last summer, the federal government, however, declined to get involved during the strike. 

Late today, both sides confirmed that the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has scheduled a meeting for 10 a.m. on April 13 and ordered them to attend.

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 longshoremen.