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Port of Montreal strike end nears after lawmakers OK back-to-work legislation

Back-to-work legislation could take effect Saturday if Senate approves bill

Longshoremen at the Port of Montreal began a general strike on Monday. (Photo: Montreal Port Authority)

The strike at the Port of Montreal moved a step closer to ending after lawmakers in Canada’s House of Commons approved back-to-work legislation early Thursday.

The legislation, Bill C-29, will require longshoremen at the port to return to work immediately after it takes effect. That could come as early as 12:01 a.m. Saturday if the Senate approves the bill on Friday, which is likely. 

The longshoremen, represented by Canadian Union of Public Employees Local (CUPE) 375, will be prohibited from further strikes until they reach a new collective bargaining agreement with the Maritime Employers Association (MEA). 

The bill’s passage drew a rebuke from CUPE, which called it “an assault on the rights of 1,150 striking workers at the Port of Montreal.”

The federal Labor Minister Filomena Tassi said the government moved ahead with the legislation because the damage to the supply chain and Canadian economy was too grave to allow the strike to continue. 

“The situation now is dire and the consequences are going to be very hurtful for Canadians across this country, ” Tassi told members of parliament on Wednesday, adding that the strike cost the economy up to $80 million per week.   

The longshoremen began a general strike on Monday, which shut down most cargo operations at Canada’s second-busiest port. It came less than a year after an 11-day strike, which ended in a truce. 

Relations between the dockworkers and the port employers quickly deteriorated after the truce expired in March. The longshoremen began a partial strike after the MEA suspended a guarantee of minimum pay and moved to a general strike in response to a change in work schedules.

The MEA said the measures were in response to a drop in port cargo volumes resulting from the labor dispute. 

The longshoremen have been without a contract since late 2018. While the details of the contract talks haven’t been made public, union officials have said the key sticking points include working conditions and work-life balance, pointing to schedules that can require longshoremen to work 19 out of 21 days at times. 

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Nate Tabak

Nate Tabak is a Toronto-based journalist and producer who covers cybersecurity and cross-border trucking and logistics for FreightWaves. He spent seven years reporting stories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a reporter, producer and editor based in Kosovo. He previously worked at newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Jose Mercury News. He graduated from UC Berkeley, where he studied the history of American policing. Contact Nate at [email protected].