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St. Lawrence Seaway Shuts Down as Operators' Union Goes on Strike

Unifor
Courtesy Unifor

Published Oct 22, 2023 10:04 PM by The Maritime Executive

A union representing 360 workers on the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence Seaway has gone on strike after failing to reach a contract agreement, temporarily shutting down the Great Lakes' connection to the sea. 

In a statement, union Unifor said that talks with its employer, St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC), are "1,000 nautical miles apart on wages." The union said that it had made every effort to avoid a strike, but SLSMC had not made enough movement in its bargaining position.

"The SLSMC works to find a fair and competitive labor agreement that balances wage demands and market realities," said the corporation in a statement. "As a result, the system will remain shut down until an agreement can be reached."

SLSMC carried out plans for an organized shutdown of the seaway system over the course of the last three days. This allowed all vessels in transit to safely exit the seaway and its locks, and no ships got caught in the middle, the corporation said. The U.S. side of the operation is also unaffected.

However, more than 100 vessels outside of the seaway have been impacted by the shutdown. The corporation has applied to the Canada Industrial Relations Board to make Unifor provide staffing for the safe transit of grain-carrying bulkers. 

According to SLSMC, Unifor is seeking exceptional wage increases inspired by union action in the automotive industry. Unifor also represents thousands of auto workers, and it just concluded negotiations with General Motors on a multiyear contract earlier this month. The terms of the contract with GM are generous, including a 20-25 percent raise over three years and two more paid holidays. They aren't the only ones: on the other side of the Canadian border, new union leaders at the United Auto Workers have secured tentative offers from the Big Three U.S. automakers for a raise of 23 percent over five years - and the UAW is still holding out for an even better deal.