Montreal Warns of Delays as Port Operations Resume After Strike

Montreal port dock strike
Dockworkers returned to work yesterday after a week long strike (Montreal Port Authority)

Published May 3, 2021 3:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

Operations resumed at the Port of Montreal on May 2, after the federal government’s back-to-work order became effective for the 1,150 dockworkers in the more than a two-year dispute over a new contract. After a week’s long general strike, port officials, however, cautioned that it would take time to catch up and fully restore operations at Canada’s second-busiest port.

“It was not an easy decision,” Tweeted out Canada’s Minister of Labor, Filomena Tassi, after the back-to-work order passed the Canadian Senate. “We took it with a heavy heart because we believe in the collective bargaining process,” the minister said while noting the harm to the Canadian economy from the repeated job actions and the belief that the two sides are at a standstill.

Since October 2018, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service facilitated over 100 days of mediated bargaining, said the minister in her official statement. The two sides remain deadlocked over work schedules for the dockworkers. The Maritime Employers Association had extended the workers’ shifts by up to 100 minutes which led to the most recent walkout.

Under the terms of the order, the dockworkers were required to resume work with the terms of their collective bargaining agreement that expired in December 2018. The government asked both sides to put forward the name of a proposed mediator-arbitrator, and if they cannot agree on a selection, the government will appoint one to oversee the new negotiations. The government will conduct the mediation and any remaining issues will be decided through arbitration. Both sides are forbidden from staging further job actions until a new collective bargaining agreement is completed.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the port this morning, officials said, “Recent developments in labor relations between the dockworkers' union CUPE 375 and the Maritime Employers Association have resulted in operational continuity, a breath of fresh air given how much ground the Port of Montreal lost to competing ports on the U.S. East Coast due to the uncertainty of the situation.”

Port officials, however, cautioned that restoring operations and returning to a regular flow of goods will require several days of work by port workers and those involved in the logistics chain. They estimated that 20,000 containers are backlogged in the port due to the workers first refusing overtime and weekend work, which was followed by the general strike last week. They pointed out that approximately 10 ships are now heading to Montreal.

While work has resumed it is an uneasy settlement, with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) calling the government actions “a shameful day for Canadians,” saying they believed the bill was unconstitutional. They cited the escalating pressure tactics of the employers as being the cause for the recent job actions. Over the weekend, a union spokesperson was widely quoted in the Canadian media saying the union would take legal action filing complaints about the legislation and the tactics of the employers.

Over the past two and a half years, there have been several job actions and protests by the union over the lack of a new contract and reports that the bargaining was not proceeding in good faith.  Last August the dockworkers conducted a general strike, which was settled by a truce that expired in March 2021.