Latest strike forces diversion of Montreal-bound vessels

Longshore worker strikes are cutting off the flow of cargo at the Port of Montreal.

Vessels bound for Montreal are being diverted and containers already there are sitting at the port as the fourth longshore workers strike in just over a month got underway Monday morning.

This walkout differs from the three others this summer in that the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 375 has not said when the 1,125 longshore workers it represents will return to the job.

The previous strikes had scheduled starts and stops. First there was an announced 40-hour work stoppage from July 2 to 4. Then the longshore workers were off the job for four days, from July 28 to 31. Another 72-hour strike began at 7 a.m. Aug. 3. 

Just after that strike ended last Friday, CUPE announced the longshore workers’ intention to walk again, but this time said the strike would last indefinitely. 

Eight vessels already had been diverted to other ports by midday Monday, according to Mélanie Nadeau, the director of communications for the Montreal Port Authority (MPA). 

One of those is Hapag-Lloyd’s Livorno Express, a vessel with a capacity of 3,838 twenty-foot equivalent units deployed on the Mediterrean-Canada Service (MCA). It has been diverted from Montreal to the DP World Terminal at Port Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, with an estimated arrival on Aug. 22. 

Hapag-Lloyd earlier diverted the Detroit Express to Saint John and the Montreal Express to Port of Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada. 

According to Nadeau, the longshore workers also left behind containers that need to be discharged from the port.

“We are assessing the number of containers that are currently being held on our docks. I do not have a precise figure at the moment but it will certainly be a few thousand containers,” Nadeau said.

The MPA said on its website that it “deplores the conflict” between the Maritime Employers Association (MEA) and the longshore union and the major impacts on businesses that have resulted.

“The MPA is very concerned about these work stoppages affecting public health and safety during a global pandemic, as port operations are essential to keep the economy running smoothly and to supply food and other essential products,” it said. “A prolonged stoppage in port operations has major repercussions for Canadian businesses that depend on international trade and, ultimately, for the supply of goods and services to the public.”  

CityNews Montreal tweeted that Quebec officials “are imploring the federal government to intervene in the [labor] dispute that has paralyzed the Port of Montreal for two weeks.”

The MEA said it made 11th-hour efforts Sunday to avert another strike at the port.

The MEA “contacted the longshoremen’s union on Sunday evening. There were several exchanges, which unfortunately did not result in a truce,” said Kate Monfette, director of public affairs for the employers association. “The MEA still believes that the solution lies in a truce … and the communication channel remains open.” 

According to the MEA, there have been more than 60 negotiating sessions with CUPE since September 2018. The collective agreement expired Dec. 31. 2018.

Work-life balance reportedly has been a point of contention in the negotiations.

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