Port of Montreal Strike Continues as Workers and Employers Face Impasse
August 20, 2020
Signs of potential progress between employers at the Port of Montreal and striking dockworkers emerged on Wednesday evening, 10 days into the port shutdown.
At a news conference yesterday, MEA head Martin Tessier described the progress as “very slow,” in contrast to federal Labour Minister Filomena Tassi’s depiction Monday of “encouraging progress made between the two parties.”
Approximately $100 billion in merchandise passes through the port each year, prompting concerns that the strike threatens the food, manufacturing, retail and auto industries, especially in Quebec and Ontario. Ottawa has so far declined to intervene despite pleas from industry groups and the Ontario and Quebec governments.
Tessier said he has asked the union to move 477 containers out of about 11,500 now on the waterfront in order to clear essential goods such as pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, as well as perishable foods and hazardous materials.
The union has only agreed to move COVID-19-related cargo, meaning managers or replacement workers will likely handle some of the others, Tessier said.
Michel Murray, a spokesman with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said dockworkers feel the situation is unproductive because the employers association refuses to reveal the exact contents of the containers.
The longshore workers have said from the outset of the strike, on Aug. 10, that any pandemic-related freight can leave the port. For the rest, the union cites a June decision by the Canada Industrial Relations Board on what constitutes an essential service at the Port of Montreal.
In a statement released yesterday by the Port of Montreal, it estimates that approximately 90,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) are now either stranded on its docks or aboard the fifteen or so container ships rerouted to other ports.
Additionally, it estimates that roughly 325,000 more tonnes of dry bulk could be impacted by the situation should it persist over the next few weeks.
The strike by 1,125 dockworkers, who have been without a collective agreement since September 2018, revolves largely around wages and scheduling.
Longshore workers are paid $36 an hour for a minimum of 32 hours per week, even if they don’t work an hour — which is rare — Tessier said. The minimum threshold rises to 36 hours after five years and 40 hours after 10 years.
The obligation constantly to be on call remains an impediment in negotiations.