July 19th, 2024

As strike deadline looms, St. Lawrence Seaway authority says little progress in talks

By The Canadian Press on October 21, 2023.

Ships are docked at the Port of Montreal, Tuesday, Sept.19, 2023.The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. says little progress has been made in its negotiations with Unifor just hours ahead its deadline. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

MONTREAL – The organization employing workers at the St. Lawrence Seaway says there has been little progress in labour negotiations with a major union just hours before workers are poised to walk off the job.

Unifor, which represents some 360 workers with the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., issued a 72-hour strike notice to the employer earlier this week, saying seaway workers were ready to strike as of midnight Saturday.

A potential halt would likely affect cargo shipments immediately along the St. Lawrence corridor, which runs between Montreal and Lake Erie and carried $16.7 billion worth of cargo last year.

The seaway authority says Unifor continues to demand wage increases patterned after automotive negotiations, but asserts that while automotive workers had fallen behind inflation following givebacks, seaway workers have not.

It says workers have negotiated salary increases over the past 20 years and now take home wages that are 10 per cent ahead of inflation.

Negotiations began on June 19 and 20 with the help of a conciliator. The two sides held additional talks in September and resumed bargaining on Oct. 17.

Terence Bowles, CEO of St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., says the authority is “very concerned” about the potential shutdown.

“As the clock ticks down to the potential start of a strike, we are working to ensure all vessels are able to safely exit the waterway or reach their destination within the system, at the same time as we are at the table trying to arrive at a labour agreement that is fair to the corporation and its employees,” Bowles said in a news release Saturday.

Unifor did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the talks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2023.

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