St. Lawrence Seaway will remain closed until an agreement can be reached with striking workers, says the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation.
Currently, there are no vessels waiting to exit the system, but there are more than 100 vessels outside the system, said the SLSMC Sunday morning.
The strike deadline was a minute after midnight Sunday morning. The SLSMC said an “orderly shutdown of the system” took place during the 72-hour notice period before the strike began, allowing for vessels to safely clear the seaway system.
According to a previous statement, a strike would curtail vessels’ ability to transit through the locks at Montreal, Beauharnois, Iroquois, and the eight locks along the Welland Canal.
The 361 workers ensure the transport of ships through the seaway, particularly the locks. About 4,000 ships travel through the seaway each year, transporting a variety of goods.
As of Saturday morning, there had been 36 vessels waiting to exit the system, 22 upbound and 14 downbound, and 70 vessels outside the system.
“The stakes are high, and we are fully dedicated to finding a resolution that serves the interests of the Corporation and its employees. We remain committed to continuing discussions and reaching a fair labour agreement,” said SLSMC president and CEO Terence Bowles in a statement released just after midnight.
“In these economically and geopolitically critical times, it is important that the seaway remains a reliable transportation route for the efficient movement of essential cargoes between North America and the remainder of the world.”
The SLSMC was awaiting a response to its Canada Industrial Relations Board application, seeking a ruling under the Canada Labour Code for the union to provide employees during a strike, to ensure vessels engaged in the movement of grain continue transiting the system.
In a statement, the national president of Unifor, the union that represents the workers, said SLSMC failed make serious movement in the past two days. A 72-hour strike notice was officially filed on Oct. 18 and no resolution was reached by the 11:59 p.m. Saturday deadline.
“This impasse is extremely unfortunate, but our members remain committed to getting a fair agreement,” said Unifor national president Lana Payne.
According to SLSMC, Unifor had moved minimally from its initial position and the two parties were were unable to reach an agreement before the strike deadline.
The locals on strike include Unifor 4211, 4319, 4212, 4323 and 4320.
Locals 4212, 4323 and 4320 represent workers whose contracts expired on March 31. The three locals represent employees at the SLSMC headquarters in Cornwall, along with operational and maintenance staff members based along the seaway in Ontario and Quebec.
These contracts are not in play for the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. employees who work at the seaway’s two locks near Massena, N.Y.
The union and management met for bargaining dates on June 19-20, and Sept. 25-29, with the assistance of a conciliator. There were three more days of bargaining scheduled for next week, but Unifor announced the results of the strike votes on Oct. 12, saying 99 per cent of those who cast ballots voted to strike on Oct. 21 if a deal wasn’t reached.
A 72-hour strike notice was officially filed on Oct. 18, and despite sustained negotiating efforts, no resolution was reached by the Saturday, Oct. 21 at 11:59 p.m. deadline, according to Unifor.
The parties are at an impasse as Unifor continues to insist on wage increases inspired by “automotive-type negotiations,” said the SLSMC in its statement Sunday.
“As a result, the system will remain shut down until an agreement can be reached, whether it be temporary or tentative, as we work diligently to minimize disruption for all stakeholders.”
Source: Ottawa Citizen (With files from the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder and the Canadian Press)
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