Strike Looms in Montreal Port Standoff Over Worker Contracts

The biggest port in Eastern Canada may be seeing disrupted shipments if dockworkers and their employers can’t agree on a new union contract.

Longshoremen at the Port of Montreal are demanding better schedules, and voted overwhelmingly against an offer from the Maritime Employers Association on March 21. While the union doesn’t intend to strike for now, they still could, and the lack of an agreement threatens to upend port operations at a time when shipments are already hampered by a global container shortage.

“We expect that terminal performance in the port will be severely impacted” given the potential risk of workers taking action, Hapag-Lloyd AG said in an email to customers Tuesday. The shipper also said vessels could be diverted at additional costs.

Many small and medium-sized businesses rely on shipments that pass through the Port of Montreal, the biggest in Eastern Canada. Dockworkers handled 1.6 million containers holding 35 million metric tons of goods and commodities last year. About two-thirds of the tonnage was bulk products like oil, fertilizers and iron ore.

The latest failure to reach an agreement isn’t new. In 2020, a series of rotating strikes by Montreal dockworkers caused 21 container ships to divert to other ports, and the equivalent of 80,000 20-foot containers were either grounded or rerouted.

Michel Murray, a union representative, told a local radio station Monday that the dockworkers’ main demand is to have work schedules that will allow balance with personal lives. Employers treat longshoremen as if they were firefighters or emergency doctors, he said.

The Maritime Employers Association said it is waiting for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services to call, stating its priority remains to negotiate an agreement as soon as possible.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Covid-19 infections among dockworkers in the United States, have threatened to worsen ship bottlenecks at some ports, highlighting the importance of dockworkers. In the U.S., contracts are set to expire next year at 29 ports.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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