Nearly 500 Canadian Auto Workers employees on Friday notified Canada’s St. Lawrence Seaway Management of their intent to strike on Monday, an action that would shut down traffic between ports Montreal to Duluth.
The strike would start at noon Monday, the seaway authority said, and mean “the St. Lawrence Seaway will be closed to all traffic. A contingency plan provides for the orderly shutdown of the system in the event of a labor interruption.”
Negotiations were scheduled to continue over the weekend with a federally appointed mediator. The latest round of negotiations began on Sept. 19, although initial talks on three collective agreements started last May. The SLSMC had expected negotiations to resume Oct. 6, but the CAW's 72-hour strike notice moved the date up.
Key issues in the dispute relate to changes sought by the SLSMC on work rules and technology replacing workers. CAW President Ken Lewenza said the 72-hour notice was necessary to get bargaining moving in the right direction.
Seaway traffic that from the late March opening of the 2011 shipping season through August grew 3.5 percent year-over year, to 22 million metric tons. Grain shipments from Canada and the United States led the increase in the period, traditionally one of the slowest of the year.
The strike also would shut down project cargo shipments to the ports of Duluth, Minn., and Thunder Bay, Ontario. The ports, at the head of the Great Lakes, handle giant blades, turbines and other equipment from Europe destined for wind farms being built in the U.S. Midwest and western Canada.
Seaway-Atlantic business also passes through the Port of Montreal, as do transshipments from hubs in the Atlantic and at Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Federal Labor Minister Lisa Raitt said any work stoppage could hurt Canadian businesses and the economy. Raitt did not mention the potential for back-to-work legislation, but she threatened two Air Canada unions with back-to-work legislation earlier this year, and legislated striking Canada Post workers back to work.
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