Strike averted for St. Lawrence workers
The threat of a strike that could have shut down the St. Lawrence Seaway has been averted. With a Monday strike deadline looming, the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. and Unifor, a union representing 460 Canadian workers who help operate lock...
The threat of a strike that could have shut down the St. Lawrence Seaway has been averted. With a Monday strike deadline looming, the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. and Unifor, a union representing 460 Canadian workers who help operate locks and other critical components of the system, agreed late Sunday night to enter binding arbitration.
Marine professionals in the Twin Ports greeted news of the agreement warmly.
“Anytime you’re talking about a potential disruption, it’s a problem, especially with ships costing as much as they do per day,” said Chuck Hilleren, president of Guthrie-Hubner Inc., a Duluth-based ship agency.
He noted a strike could have caused considerable headaches for local grain elevators now in the busy fall season.
“The onus is on them to deliver the grain,” Hilleren said.
“We don’t need that kind of a situation at this time in the season, when there’s so much export activity,” said Ron Johnson, trade development director for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.
An Oct. 31 deadline was extended to 5 p.m. Nov. 3 so talks could continue through the weekend.
“We have been meeting night and day the past week to reach a deal, and came to the conclusion that arbitration was the best way to resolve remaining issues,” said a statement issued by Unifor national representative Joel Fournier.
One of the sticking points has involved safety concerns and the prospect of reduced staffing as the seaway system becomes increasingly automated.
Terence Bowles, president and CEO of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., issued a statement saying, “I am very pleased that we have reached this agreement, which enables navigation on the Seaway to continue without interruption.”
Hilleren still remembers the turmoil of the grain millers’ strike in 1978 and said he has no appetite for a repeat experience.
Johnson said it’s been decades since a labor dispute has disrupted operation of the seaway system.
Hilleren said the recent prospect of a strike had little discernible effect on marine activity in the Twin Ports.
“Everyone honored their commitments, hoping things would work themselves out, and thankfully, cooler heads prevailed.”
But he said if the standoff and threat of a strike had lingered, it could have chilled business.
“If it were to go on for another week or more, some ship owners probably would be leery about sending their ships into the system. It definitely could have had a detrimental effect,” Hilleren said.
This story includes information from the Reuters news service.