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Tensions at the Port of Montreal against the backdrop of anti-scab legislation – Truck News

The dockworkers at the Port of Montreal rejected by 99.5% the latest employer offer aimed at renewing their collective agreement, which expired on Dec. 31.

There was a secret ballot on April 21 and 22 and 1,078 members exercised their right to vote out of a possible 1,206 voters, representing a participation rate of 89.16%.

Crane places a container on a maneuvering tractor
(Photo: Montreal Port Longshoremen’s Union)

“There is clearly a desire to provoke the union and its members on the side of the AEM [Association of Maritime Employers] and the shipping companies which make up its board of directors,” said Martin Lapierre, president of the Longshoremen’s Union (CUPE 375).

“The new president of the AEM, despite fine speeches, has not changed the old goodwill of his association. The AEM works almost exclusively to try to dominate, muzzle and, above all, maintain a hatred for the longshore workers and their representatives,” added Michel Murray, CUPE union advisor.

Negotiations continued April 23, and the union reiterated its desire to reach a negotiated settlement between the parties.

Economic losses for trucking

At the Quebec Trucking Association (ACQ), president and CEO Marc Cadieux says he does not want to relive an episode of labor conflict at the Port of Montreal, the last longshore strike having ended in the spring of 2021.

In an interview with Transport Routier, Cadieux explained: “The latest strikes that we have experienced have had very considerable economic impacts on carriers,” referring to last summer’s strikes at ports on the west coast of the country.

In the context of the current economic slowdown, the CEO of the ACQ believes that “it is not desirable for the Port of Montreal to constantly be faced with this sword of Damocles.”

“There are shippers who could be increasingly tempted to revisit other ports, so it would be a loss of business for both the port and the carriers.”

Replacement workers?

Dec. 31, 2023 is not only when the contract ended, but is also the deadline set by the Trudeau government to introduce legislation prohibiting the use of replacement workers during a strike or lockout within a federally regulated organization.

This bill (C-58) was in fact tabled on time but has not yet been adopted. It is being studied by a committee of deputies. Unsurprisingly, the employers are against, and the unions are for.

At the ACQ, Cadieux believes that calling on replacement workers is a measure of last resort.

“It is certain that with replacement employees, there is always tension between those who work near the port and those who leave and enter. It never bodes well,” he says.

This is what is happening right now at the port of Quebec, where replacement workers are carrying out the tasks of longshoremen, who have been locked out for 19 months. There, the union claims that these replacement workers are the source of many accidents.

Employers and unions clash

For the Quebec Employers Council (CPQ), the use of replacement workers is essential. He submitted a memorandum to the federal government to encourage it to back down because, he said, “this bill is a real threat to our economic prosperity and the goodwill of our supply chains.”

“A modern society like Canada cannot afford to become so self-involved,” says Karl Blackburn, president and CEO of the CPQ.

The CPQ also proposes to significantly improve the process of maintaining activities so that it takes into consideration “the vital and essential role of the actors in the logistics chain.”

At the FTQ, the Steelworkers union also made itself heard before the committee of parliamentarians which is looking into Bill C-58, an “anti-scabs” law that the union is calling for with all its hopes, pleading that it has worked very well in Quebec for more than 40 years.

“We’ve been beating around the bush for decades, it’s time to finally balance labor relations,” said the assistant to the Quebec director of the Steelworkers, Nicolas Lapierre.

“Since 1977, we have lived under a labor relations regime in Quebec which includes provisions prohibiting strikebreakers – also called replacement workers or even scabs. This has made it possible to generally calm down labor conflicts,” says Lapierre, adding that several conflicts have been avoided or shortened thanks to this provision.

The Steelworkers also recommend an immediate entry into force of the law, upon its adoption, rather than the 18-month period provided for in the current bill.

Investigative committee

This week, federal Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan Jr. announced the establishment of a commission of inquiry into labor relations. Its objective will be to study the underlying issues of labor conflicts with longshoremen in ports on the Canadian West Coast.

“Canadians have suffered economic disruption that no labor dispute should be able to create. Ports are vital to supply chains, and the scale of the conflict has placed a burden on the countless businesses and workers who depend on these chains,” O’Regan said in a press release.

The Commission will begin meeting with stakeholders shortly. She must present a report to the minister in spring 2025, which will include her conclusions and recommendations.

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