Canadian officials expect the Port of Montreal longshore workers’ union and the employment association to resolve their differences without government intervention.
Longshore members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 375 began an indefinite strike Monday after the latest talks with the Maritime Employers Association (MEA) broke down. It’s the fourth walkout staged by CUPE since July 1.
“Our government’s clear expectation is for both parties to work together to resolve their differences quickly,” Labor Minister Filomena Tassi said in a statement.
Tassi said the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has met with both sides “on many occasions” since the collective bargaining agreement expired in December 2018.
The MEA said it has had more than 60 negotiating sessions with CUPE since the fall of 2018 and reached out Sunday night, hours before the latest strike got underway.
“There were several exchanges, which unfortunately did not result in a truce,” said Kate Monfette, the MEA’s director of public affairs.
CUPE’s biggest beef reportedly is the lack of a work-life balance. The union has said its 1,225 longshore members — heavy machinery operators, signalers, ship handlers, electricians and mechanics — work 19 consecutive days before receiving a day off.
Tassi wants both sides to keep talking.
“We have faith in the collective bargaining process, as we know the best deals are made at the table. Our government’s clear expectation is for both parties to work together to resolve their differences quickly. We will be monitoring the situation closely and looking into how to support the ongoing mediation efforts,” she said.
“Our government understands the importance of the Port of Montreal and its workers to the Canadian economy,” Tassi said. “My colleague, [Transport Minister] Marc Garneau, and I have reached out to both parties to convey our expectation that they focus their efforts on reaching an agreement and avoid further disruption.
“It is in reaching a negotiated agreement that normal functions can return at the port, and anything that delays the bargaining process is disappointing and harmful to both the local and national economies,” she said.
But Canadian industry groups say the economy already is being hurt and urge the government to step in and facilitate a resolution.
“Canada is caught in the middle of a devastating and unprecedented economic slowdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Labor action at the Port of Montreal will have a direct and significant impact on the operations of thousands of companies and their employees,” Phil Taylor, managing director of external communications for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.
Taylor said he also was speaking for the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, Forest Products Association of Canada, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Retail Council of Canada and Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.
“Tens of thousands of workers whose livelihoods depend on the Port of Montreal will be at risk of losing their jobs. Labor action will strain already weakened supply chains and [a] shutdown or a slowdown of service will have a significant impact on the populations of Quebec, Ontario and the Atlantic provinces,” Taylor said.
Asked Tuesday how much revenue the Port of Montreal loses with each day longshore workers are on strike, Mélanie Nadeau, the director of communications for the Montreal Port Authority (MPA), said, “We don’t have that economic data.”
Although CityNews Montreal tweeted that the strike has “paralyzed” port operations, Nadeau said some work continues.
“The port is not all shut down,” Nadeau said, pointing out that the strikes have not affected liquid bulk handling, the Oceanex service at Bickerdike Terminal and the Viterra grain terminal.
Other cargo is being diverted to the Canadian ports of Saint John and Halifax.