The Port of Montreal workers may be on the verge of striking, adding to the list of disruptions faced by Canadian industry during the past year, while perhaps setting the tone for 2024 labor relations.
A Transport Canada study in 2021 suggested the five-day strike at this facility would cost up to $100 million per week, with the value of total shipments estimated to be roughly one-third of West Coast shipments.
The port's website reports the capacity of the Viterra grain terminal at 260,000 metric tons (mt). The 2022 annual report shows 36 million metric tons of product handled, of which 8.2 mmt is shown as dry bulk commodities and 14.4 mmt is containterized. The dry bulk is broken down into grains, including soybeans, wheat, barley, corn, canola and rye and more, along with iron ore, sugar, salt, fertilizer, gypsum and gravel.
In December, Members of Parliament studying the summer of 2023 Vancouver port strike were told by Brian Kingston, president of the Vehicle Manufacturer's Association that "Disruptions have become a feature not a bug of the Canadian transportation system," as reported by the Financial Post. He goes on to state that shippers were taking steps to reduce their reliance on major Canadian ports.
Talks began between the Maritime Employers Association, representing shippers, and CUPE 375 on September 13, according to universallogistics.ca. The union submitted a notice of dispute to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, or CIRB, on Sept. 22, while federal mediators have been involved since Oct. 6.
In mid-December, it was reported that contract talks between longshore workers and employers at the Port of Montreal had broken down, with the previous contract to end on Dec. 31, 2023. Shippers have asked the federal government to intervene to declare terminal activity an essential service, while unions feel that the 72-hour notice prior to a strike is sufficient and allows vessels to divert to another port.
Following a "cooling-off" period, workers have been in position to strike since Jan. 4, 2024, provided 72-hour notice is given. It is reported that longshoreman want a wage hike of a minimum of 20% over four years and job security after three years. These talks are taking place at a time when business at the port has cooled, with data as of mid-December indicating container volume was down 12% year-to-date.
As reported by financialpost.com, Michel LeBlanc, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, stated to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in front of a Montreal crowd on Tuesday, "We have a perpetual, recurring crisis called port strikes in Canada. As we speak, everybody here thinks we'll have a strike at the Port of Montreal in weeks. We have seen this coming for months."
The Financial Post reports that Trudeau also spoke at the Montreal event on Tuesday, stating "The uncertainty, the disruption to supply chains don't just cause problems during strikes. After port activities resume, some customers who had found alternative transportation never return to ports."
In 2021, a strike at the Port of Montreal by 1,150 dockworkers led the government to quickly introduce back-to-work legislation, stating that the strike was "adding significant stress to supply chains already under strain from COVID-19." The strike began on April 26 and workers returned to work on May 1.
This time could be different. The government has been accused of moving too slowly during the West Coast port worker strike in 2023, while votes are on the line ahead of a fall 2025 election.
Cliff Jamieson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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