After a 30 month negotiation period between the longshoremen and their employer, as of April 13, there is a partial strike at the Port of Montreal.
Greg Northey, vice president of corporate affairs with Pulse Canada, says the negotiations really picked up last summer when there was a total of 15 strikes, with one that lasted 10 days in August. During that period, no agreements were made but both parties agreed to a six month truce which ended at the end of March.
With the truce ending, the union decided Tuesday they would start a partial strike, which means no more overtime; and starting this weekend, no more working weekends.
“This was actually in response to the employer that said they would no longer pay (the longshoremen) their minimum salary. The previous arrangement with the longshoreman was that they were having a guarantee income no matter how many hours they worked,” Northey explains. “And now they were told they would no longer have that. There’s so much less traffic going through Montreal that it didn’t make sense to have a sort of minimum guarantee salary for the longshoreman. So it’s a bit of a tit-for-tat, but either way the position we are in right now is a partial strike.”
So what does this mean for agriculture? What ag commodities are potentially impacted? Largely, anything that is going through the Port of Montreal in containers is impacted. As Northey explains, there are about 1.5 to 1.8 million tonnes of grains that move through there in containers, with soybeans, wheat, and lentils being the big three.
Although there hasn’t been any indication yet of this, many different groups are urging the federal government to intervene. Pulse Canada is one of the groups that hopes so.
“It’s been 30 months, and the situation really quite frankly is unacceptable with a timeline like that. We need this to end as soon as possible. It’s been impacting traffic for two months, as just the fear of putting anything through Montreal has been a problem. CN as of tomorrow will no longer even be serving the Port of Montreal,” says Northey. “It’s gotten to the point now, where we pride ourselves on wanting to be an agricultural superpower, and if we can’t even get one of our largest ports to function properly for this lengthy period of time… it’s just completely unacceptable, and extremely damaging to the sector.”
CN Rail officially denies that it has stopped serving the port. “We can confirm that CN is still serving the Port of Montreal. CN is working with its customers and supply chain partners in order to minimize the impacts to the overall supply chain that a labour dispute may have,” a spokesperson says.
Listen to the full conversation between Northey and RealAgriculture founder Shaun Haney, below:
This story has been edited to add a statement from CN Rail.