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Canada’s largest union fights proposal to curb strikes

Unifor critical of supply chain task force’s recommendation to develop alternative model of labor relations

Unifor, Canada’s largest labor union, has criticized a federal supply chain task force’s recommendations as “anti-worker.” Pictured are protesters that disrupted Ottawa, Canada, as part of the Freedom Convoy protests in February. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Canadian labor union Unifor has blasted a recommendation by a federal supply chain task force to find alternative models of labor relations to reduce the likelihood of strikes.

Unifor, Canada’s largest labor union, said the proposal by the National Supply Chain Task Force to “develop a new collaborative labor relations paradigm that would reduce the likelihood of strikes” is an attempt to diminish workers’ basic rights.

“It is wholly unacceptable for the task force to have considered ‘labor disputes’ as events requiring risk-mitigation strategies,” wrote Unifor National President Lana Payne in an open letter to Canadian Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra. “Limiting worker power by curtailing the rights of workers to strike would contribute to the erosion of job quality, destabilizing the transportation supply chain further — the opposite of what the task force was set up to accomplish.”

Unifor represents about 315,000 workers in Canada in every major area of the economy.

A spokesperson from Canada’s Office of the Minister of Transport said the government supports workers’ rights.

“Let there be no confusion: our government remains committed to protecting workers’ rights, and free and fair collective bargaining,” the agency said in an email to FreightWaves. “The way to ensure resilient supply chains is through collaboration with workers.”

The agency also told FreightWaves that the supply chain task force made independent recommendations to the Canadian government. 

“Workers in this country have the right to strike and employers have the right to lock out their employees — that’s protected in the Canada Labor Code. The task force made independent recommendations to our government to strengthen our supply chains, and we are grateful for their work,” said the Office of the Minister of Transport.

Alghabra organized the National Supply Chain Task Force in March to consult with the transportation and infrastructure industries, along with the country’s trade associations and experts to make recommendations to strengthen Canada’s supply chain.

The task force released its final report on Oct. 6. It presented 21 actions aimed at relieving port congestion, addressing labor shortages, protecting border crossings and trade corridors, and developing a national supply chain strategy.

Concerning labor relations, the task force’s final report stated: “Even the threat of strikes or lockouts negatively affects the operation of the national transportation supply chain and, in turn, Canada’s reputation as a destination of choice for doing business. The Minister of Labor should urgently convene a council of experts to develop a new collaborative labor relations paradigm that would reduce the likelihood of strikes, threat of strikes, or lockouts that risk the operation or fluidity of the national transportation supply chain.”

Payne suggested the task force’s priorities were skewed.

“A stable, secure, and skilled workforce must stand atop the list of priorities for anyone looking to solidify supply chains,” she wrote. “Sadly, job quality is noticeably absent from the list of action items in the task force’s final report.”

The next step for the Canadian government is to develop a national supply chain strategy based on the task force’s recommendations.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), one of the stakeholders involved in the task force discussions, has been more receptive of the trucking industry recommendations outlined in the report.

“Several of the recommendations reflect what the CTA has been calling for to relieve stress and improve [the movement of goods] for the Canadian supply chain, which has been grappling with an acute driver shortage, service disruptions and inflationary pressures since the pandemic began,” CTA said in a news release.

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One Comment

  1. Noble1

    Essential transportation workers are defined as workers supporting or enabling transportation functions in any transportation mode (i.e. road, air, rail, marine), in support of the continued essential movement of goods and people, in circumstances where non-essential travel is restricted. For greater clarity, this includes but is not limited to:

    Truck transportation employees, including drivers, dispatchers, maintenance and repair technicians, warehouse workers, truck stop and commercial vehicle inspection station workers, rest area workers, and workers that maintain and inspect critical infrastructure (including those that require cross-border travel)
    Employees of firms and shipping facilities providing administrative and support services that enable logistics operations, including distribution, cooling, storing, packaging, and distributing products for wholesale or retail sale or use
    Workers responsible for inspecting rail transport infrastructure, controlling rail traffic, and rail operating equipment
    Workers responsible for operating dispatching passenger, commuter and freight trains and maintaining rail infrastructure and equipment
    Maritime transportation workers, including those in the commercial shipping sector who ensure the continuity of operations and the fluidity of commercial shipping, such as vessel crew, port workers, mariners, equipment operators, longshoremen, sailors, marine pilots, marine agents, representatives of foreign ship owners, maintenance workers, tug captains, and others
    Truck drivers, and conductors of other conveyances, involved in the transportation of essential goods and materials, and supporting infrastructure, capabilities, functions, and services
    Transportation workers in support of any emergency response
    Transportation service providers, including drivers, conducting transportation services necessary for activities of daily living (e.g. taxis, other private transportation providers, couriers)
    Workers in organizations that provide transportation services to businesses and individuals, including by air, water, road, and rail, including providing logistical support, distribution services, warehousing and storage, including truck stops and tow operators
    Transportation workers involved in construction work and necessary supporting services
    Workers in organizations that provide materials and services for the operation, maintenance and safety of the transportation system, such as clearing snow, collision response, and completing needed repairs to the transportation system (e.g. road repairs)
    Automotive and heavy vehicle repair and maintenance workers
    Postal and shipping workers, to include private companies
    Those working for distributors (to include service centres and related operations) of packaging materials, pallets, crates, containers, and other supplies needed to support manufacturing, packaging staging and distribution operations
    Tow truck and vehicle rental workers
    Employees who repair and maintain vehicles, aircraft, rail equipment, marine vessels, and the equipment and infrastructure that enables operations that encompass movement of cargo and passengers
    Air transportation employees, including pilots, flight attendants and flight crew, air traffic controllers, ramp personnel, aviation security, and aviation management
    Workers who support the maintenance and operation of cargo by air transportation, including flight crews, maintenance, airport operations, and other on-and off-airport facilities workers
    Public/mass transportation workers, including those with maintenance, operations, and dispatch responsibilities

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, Maryland and Texas. Contact [email protected]