Truce reached in Montreal port strike

Longshoremen to return to work Sunday

Striking longshoremen at the Port of Montreal plan to return to work Sunday morning, beginning a truce of up to seven months brokered by federal mediators.

Federal Labour Minister Filomena Tassi announced Friday that the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 375, Syndicat des debardeurs and the port’s Maritime Employers Association (MEA) have “concluded a truce agreement.”

The union, which represents about 1,150 longshoremen and longshorewomen loading and unloading ships at the port, on Aug. 10 launched what it described at the time as an “indefinite” strike following a series of intermittent work stoppages.

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Following calls to the parties earlier this week, Tassi said, she directed Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services to put forward a proposed truce agreement for their consideration, in which both sides “pause and pursue the negotiation process while operations resume” at the port.

The two parties “will work under (the truce’s) parameters as they negotiate a new contract,” she said Friday in a statement, adding she and Transport Minister Marc Garneau “strongly encourage both parties to fully use this opportunity to reach an agreement.”

CUPE 375, in a separate release Friday, said the two sides are “confident that they will be able to reach a negotiated agreement in principle by the end of the truce on March 20, 2021.”

The parties have also reached a “mutual agreement” in which they’ll be able to turn to arbitration at the end of the truce if “certain points remain in dispute.”

The unionized workers’ previous collective agreement expired at the end of December 2018; the union has described the main sticking point in talks as worker scheduling, as it relates to “work/life balance.”

CUPE 375 said Friday that a meeting to set up a “return-to-work protocol” is scheduled for Saturday and the port will be operational again starting at 7 a.m. ET Sunday.

The MEA, in a separate statement Friday, said the truce is to take effect immediately. “Starting today, no pressure tactics will be exercised, while both parties will concentrate on negotiations in order to come to an agreement,” the association said.

Montreal’s port authority warned at the strike’s onset that an open-ended work stoppage would “create long delays in handling goods for Canadian companies, especially exporters” and “oblige many export companies to lease warehouses or choose a different supply chain, if they are unable to move their goods internationally out of the Port of Montreal.”

The strike, it said, could also lead international shipping firms “to re-route certain vessels, sometimes to competing U.S. ports, resulting in higher costs for businesses and, ultimately, consumers.”

The strike didn’t affect bulk grain traffic through the port, which runs through Viterra’s 262,000-tonne capacity grain terminal. The federal Labour Code calls for port workers during a strike or lockout to “continue to provide the services they normally provide” for loading, tie-up, let-go and movement of grain vessels in and out of port.

However, the strike did affect traffic through Montreal’s container terminals — including the CanEst Transit terminal, devoted to storage, cleaning, sifting, packing and loading of agricultural products.

The CanEst terminal, whose ownership group includes Quebec ag co-operative Sollio and Regina pulse and durum processor AGT, loads about 200 containers per day. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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Dave Bedard

Editor, Daily News, Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.

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