Canadian Seaway Strike Threatens Severe Economic Consequences

Port of Cleveland

Published Oct 27, 2023 3:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

[By: Port of Cleveland]

A labor strike by hundreds of Canadian workers along the St. Lawrence Seaway has, in effect, paralyzed a critical maritime trade route connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. Over 100 vessels remain stranded outside the Seaway system, unable to access it, and this backlog will worsen as the strike endures.

The dispute is between Canadian entities St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation and UNIFOR, the union representing its workforce.  The striking workers walked off in a labor dispute three days ago, casting a shadow of uncertainty over the extensive economic activities that the St. Lawrence Seaway System supports in both Canada and the United States. This lifeline is not just pivotal for Cleveland but also for North America's broader economy and transportation network. The strike threatens to disrupt the flow of crucial commodities, including steel for example.

The Port of Cleveland will feel the impact of the strike soon if the matter is not quickly resolved.  Annually, the Seaway facilitates the movement of approximately 550,000 metric tons of cargo to and from the Port.

In response to this crisis, the Port of Cleveland has urgently dispatched a letter to the Canadian Ministers of Labor and Transportation, along with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, imploring them to promptly help resolve the labor impasse. (See attached letters)

Will Friedman, President and CEO of the Port of Cleveland, expressed deep concern.

"This shutdown is a matter of grave concern for us and numerous local businesses, given its substantial economic ramifications,” he wrote. “This vital waterway is the linchpin of trade and the movement of goods to and from Cleveland. The interruption is particularly disruptive, occurring just before the end-of-season cargoes are expected, and as winter approaches. The consequences include a halt in exports from Cleveland to overseas destinations, and end-of-year cargoes cannot reach businesses relying on them in Cleveland.

“The longer this stranglehold on commerce in and out of the Great Lakes persists, the more significant the consequences will be,” he continued.  “It not only jeopardizes the operations of ships and cargoes but could result in substantial daily economic losses. Ultimately, it may negatively impact Port workers due to dwindling traffic, and severely impact local businesses.”

Friedman said the Port is anticipating several vessels this autumn with imports that are crucial to regional manufacturing, and the longer this crisis endures, it may lead to increased costs for consumers both locally and beyond.

“Much of the high grade imported steel that moves through the Port of Cleveland is destined for local businesses, where it is processed and/or made into products such as nuts, bolts, screws, food grade tin cans, battery casings, automobile parts, and appliances that consumers use daily,” Friedman added in the letter.  

Immediate intervention is imperative to avert an escalating economic catastrophe, Friedman said.

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