Port of Montreal strike starting Monday could cost the economy $29 million a day, businesses warn
Longshoremen at the Port of Montreal will enter a general strike on Monday, escalating a labour dispute that business groups are describing as a “worst-case scenario” for the Canadian economy.
When dock workers started a work slowdown on April 13, logistics firms and manufacturing groups had warned that the resulting bottleneck could halt some production lines almost immediately. Now the Canadian Union of Public Employees said it will begin an unlimited general strike that would see its more than 1,100 union workers walk out of one of Canada’s busiest seaports starting Monday — barring a deal.
The union said the Maritime Employers’ Association, which is negotiating with the union, announced on Thursday that it would make changes to the longshore workers’ schedules starting next Monday, even as the two parties were negotiating.
“If the Maritime Employers’ Association (MEA) doesn’t want a strike, all it has to do is let up on its pressure tactics and the union will do likewise. No overtime strike. No weekend strike. It’s straightforward. We want to return to the bargaining table,” said Michel Murray, spokesman for CUPE local 375.
The Montreal Port Authority said the work slowdown has already halted the movement of about 10,000 shipping containers.
“We’re talking about raw materials for our factories, computers for working from home and fresh exotic fruits that can no longer get to our docks, and maple syrup and pork from Quebec producers that can no longer be distributed around the world via the Port of Montreal,” said Montreal Port Authority CEO Martin Imbleau in an emailed statement. “So, it’s urgent that the two parties come to an agreement.”
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On Friday, five industry groups, including the Montreal Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, issued a statement condemning the strike and the federal government’s failure to intervene. The groups said the port closure will cost Canada at least $29 million in lost economic activity each day.
“The situation at the Port of Montreal is exactly where it was feared to be going,” Michel Leblanc, CEO of Montreal Chamber of Commerce, in a press release in French. “The announcement of an indefinite general strike foreshadows disastrous consequences for the economy of the city, the province and the rest of the country… It is totally irresponsible and unacceptable to let a strategic asset like the port — which is essential to the supply chain of a significant number of Quebec and Canadian businesses — stand still in this way.”
The CFIB said it’s devastating news for the small businesses that rely on the port for supplies.
“A new general strike at the Port of Montreal at a time when thousands of small businesses are already down on their knees is unacceptable,” said CFIB vice-president of national affairs Jasmin Guenette in a press release. “We have already asked the government to act multiple times, but it is clear that the strategy adopted by our leaders has been a failure. Small businesses cannot afford the damage of a strike at this time.”
The strike will mark the second time Montreal longshoremen have walked out in less than a year, as they negotiate for better work-life balance. A similar dispute last August forced at least 21 ships to divert to other ports.
Last week, The Canadian Vehicle Manufacturer’s Association and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters also called on the federal government to prevent a full-scale strike.