Striking Port of Montreal workers agree to sort through 500 key backlogged containers
MONTREAL -- After saying they were at an impasse earlier today, striking workers at Montreal’s port have reached a provisional practical agreement to deal with the container pile-up, and they’ve been meeting with mediators.
They found the solution with a looming deadline, as employers were threatening to bring in “replacement workers” to deal with a situation they said was becoming untenable.
During the 10 days of the strike so far, tens of thousands of containers have piled up in the Port of Montreal, according to the employers, some containing perishable or dangerous goods.
“We have some cargo that is very important,” said Martin Tessier, the president of the Maritime Employers Association.
“We want to make sure that we are working with the union in order for them to help us to move that cargo.”
The workers said that of the bigger backlog, about 500 containers were in dispute.
The two sides did find a way to work together to sort through them, they announced on Wednesday night.
“The parties discussed and will meet to assess the contents of containers to be moved,” said Apraham Niziblian, who is acting as a spokesperson for the employers’ association, in a statement.
That means no “replacement workers” will be used, an idea that drawn a strong reaction from the union.
“The employer threatened to use scabs, which obviously hinders employees from exercising their right to strike,” said Michel Murray, a spokesman for the Longshorement’s Union—a local of CUPE—in a statement late Wednesday.
If the two sides hadn’t come to a provisional system for dealing with the backlog of containers by Thursday, the employers had said they’d find a way to deal with them themselves.
There could be signs of bigger progress, however, as well. Murray added that since the afternoon, both parties have been with officials from the Ministry of Labour and with mediators “in order to move the talks forward.”
The workers had agreed to continue moving only essential goods related to the pandemic. Deciding which cargo is urgent is a judgment call, in many cases, but the union says they’re going to be strict about what really needs to be moved.
“If it's something for the Apple company about the new MacBook Air, it's going to rest on the dock," said Murray.
The workers have been holding out for better working hours and work-life balance, they say, and especially heavy obligations to be on call even while away from the port.
There are some bigger economic stakes if the strike continues. For example, if goods keep piling up, it will likely mean a drop in business for the trucking industry, which employs 120,000 people in Quebec.
“So far we're looking at, obviously, layoffs,” said Marc Cadieux, the president of the Quebec Trucking Association.
“And our fear is also… that maybe some maritime companies will reconsider other ports than the Port of Montreal, being, for the past year and a half, a problematic port.”