Montreal longshoremen threaten go-slow as part of ongoing contract dispute

Both dockworkers and port owners in Montreal appear to be gearing up to resume their long-running contract-related confrontation, barely a month after standstill agreements expired.

The port handles containers and bulk cargos ranging from oil to fertilizer and iron ore. Canadian businesses have called on the federal government to become involved. Last summer, the federal government, however, declined to get involved during the strike.

The longshoremen who are employed by an association that represents the terminal operators have been without a contract since 2018. A 40-hour work stoppage was undertaken in July 2020, followed by a strike in late August 2020 that ran for two weeks. A standstill agreement was reached to bring them back to work while negotiations were meant to continue, but that truce expired in late March 2021.

The Union of longshoremen of the port of Montreal (CUPE 375) sent a notice on April 10th saying that they would begin a partial strike from April 13th.

The longshoremen said they would work their normal eight-hour shifts from Monday to Friday, including evening and night shifts, but that they would reject all overtime or extended shifts.

From April 17th they plan to reject all weekend work.

The union said this was intended to pressure the Maritime Employers Association while minimizing the disturbance to businesses moving goods through the port.

Michel Murray, CUPE union advisor, said at a press event in Montreal on Monday April 13th that “last Friday, after a good week of negotiations where the work was going well, we were surprised to receive a notice from the employer that in 72 hours, that is to say from Tuesday, he was exercising his right to lock out. When the management party left the negotiating table on Friday, they gave no sign that they were going to do so. We still believe in negotiation and look forward to a return to the table”.

The MEA said that it was dropping the income guarantee for longshoremen. It said that action was being taken after the port’s revenues dropped significantly in March after the union threatened new labour actions at the end of the truce period.

MEA said that volumes at the port declined by 11% in March as shippers began diverting cargo to other ports. MEA said that this was due to the uncertainties and potential of a new labour action.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service scheduled a meeting for the morning of April 13th and ordered both sides to attend.

One of the central issues is the dockworkers’ schedule of 19-days-on and two days off. The union contends is especially hard on the work-life balance of the longshoremen.