The St. Lawrence Seaway, the maritime trade corridor connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the industrial heartlands of Canada and the United States, could be closed to all traffic as of 00.01 hours on Sunday should the 361 Canadian unionized workers carry through their threatened strike action.
Canada’s St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) was served with a 72-hour notice to strike on October 18 by the UNIFOR union which represents Seaway workers at locals 4211, 4319, 4212, 4323 and 4320 in Ontario and Quebec.
Biggest outstanding issue revolves around wage increases aligned to inflation. The current contract expired on March 31, 2023.
The binational waterway, which handled 36.2 million tonnes in 2022, plays a crucial role in the shipments of bulk commodities, breakbulk, and increasingly in wind farm related project cargo.
Of the Seaway’s 15 locks, 13 are Canadian and two are American at Massena, New York. The latter would be forced to close since no vessels could reach that section in the waterway. Internal traffic on the U.S. Great lakes by U.S. flag-carriers would not be affected.
The SLSMC said it remains committed to obtaining a fair settlement and will continue to bargain in good faith with the assistance of a federally appointed mediator.
But because of the strike notification, the SLSMC said it “has started implementing its detailed plans for an orderly and safe shutdown of the system within the 72-hour notice period. Should the unionized workers proceed with strike action, the St. Lawrence Seaway will be closed to all traffic.”
“In particular this labour action would impact grain movements during a period when the world is in dire need of this essential commodity, even as supply has been affected by the situation in Ukraine and the greater frequency of extreme weather events being experienced around the world,” the SLSMC stated.
Thus far this year, there has been a substantial increase of Canadian grain shipped through the Seaway as a result of the conflict in Ukraine.
“Employers have seen that workers will absolutely use their right to strike when they feel it’s necessary, and our members in all units at the Seaway have had enough,” said Lana Payne, Unifor National President. “It’s time to come to the table with a serious wage offer or the employer can watch what happens when workers stand together and demand their fair share.”
Unifor members at Locals 4211, 4212 and 4323 in Ontario and Locals 4319 and 4320 in Quebec have all delivered strong strike mandates. Members in the supervisory and engineering group of workers in Locals 4211 and 4319 rejected a tentative agreement on August 1 and have aligned their plans with the maintenance, operations and administrative unit that recently voted 99% to strike.
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