MONTREAL, QUEBEC (WWTI) — The St. Lawrence Seaway is preparing for a potential strike.
On October 12, Canadian union workers within the St. Lawrence Seaway Corporation voted 99% in favor of a strike amid ongoing contract and salary negotiations.
Collective agreements between Seaway unionized employees and the Corporation expired on March 31, 2023.
Negotiations between Unifor, the union that represents these employees, and the Seaway began in June 2023, with additional dates from September 25 through September 29, according to a press release.
However, Unifor National Representative John Hockey said that these salary negotiations have not met the needs and expectations of Seaway employees.
“I think you have to look at what’s going on. Not just in Canada, but in North America. Workers have had enough,” Hockey stated. “They want their share of the pie. We’re tired of being left behind and inflation is outrageous.”
Hockey added that the last round of contract negotiations for Seaway workers took place two years ago. But they are not being adjusted to accommodate the higher cost of living.
“What we did two years ago is absolutely not reflective of the times we are in today,” he expressed. “The reason that the strike vote was so high is that the people that work there, the workers, are sick and tired of feeling disrespected and undervalued.”
The union is now in a legal position to strike at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, October 21. Which Hockey said could completely shut down the international waterway.
“It’s going to impact [the U.S.] economy, it’s going to impact the Canadian economy,” he stated. “I understand there are two locks on the American side of the Seaway in Massena, New York, and they wouldn’t function either.”
“There will be no movement of cargo through the Seaway, period,” Hockey added.
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System accounts for 30% of Canadian and U.S. economic activity and 30% of the workforce. Unifor said that Seaway workers manage the transit of more than 200 million tons of cargo each year.
The Seaway System issued a notice on October 11, which warned of the potential strike.
The notice stated that the Corporation has “prepared a contingency plan to ensure an orderly shutdown of navigation in the event of a work interruption.”
The notice also warned vessels that they may be unable to successfully transit the Montreal-Lake Ontario section of the Seaway. The union must give the Seaway 72 hours’ notice of a strike.