Montreal employers say union attacked port workers

Montreal employers say union attacked port workers

The Maritime Employer Association says non-unionized employees in Montreal, including management, are allowed to keep working under federal law. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com.

Montreal port employers are calling for federal intervention and police protection after they say union workers attacked non-unionized port checkers last night in the parking lot of Olympic Stadium. 

Maritime Employer Association (MEA) president Martin Tessier, during a news conference Thursday, said that at least 50 union workers, including some union leaders, attacked port checkers early Wednesday evening, hitting some non-unionized workers in the face and stealing wallets and cell phones. The non-union workers were being bused back to their cars from the port.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 375, which is in the midst of a 96-hour strike due to end Friday, and Local 1657 of the International Association of Longshoremen, which plans to begin a 24-hour strike Saturday, were not immediately available for comment. 

Tessier said that while union members have called replacement workers “scabs” in that they are performing illegal work, MEA says non-unionized employees, including management, are allowed to keep working under federal law.  Police, who responded to the alleged attack last night, need to protect all port workers, both unionized and non-unionized, Tessier said. 

Container impact modest

CUPE Local 375 walked off the job Monday for the second time this month because of a dispute with employers over working hours, according to an interview with Canadian news outlet CBC. Under the current labor contract, longshore workers must work 19 straight days out of every 21 days, with the exception of public holidays when the port is closed. In its strike notice, CUPE said the strike would end at 7 a.m. Friday. 

In addition to higher wages, CUPE also wants to control its hiring process and dictate the size of gangs assigned to work vessels, a Montreal-based container line executive who asked not to be identified told JOC.com. 

So far, the impact on container flow has been modest, with just one vessel unable to unload its cargo and at least two more in transit. The risk, however, is that the longshore and port checker unions trigger consecutive strikes. Unions can strike for a set period, or indefinitely, as long as they issue a 72-hour notice to employers.

Local 1657, which will begin its strike at 6 a.m. Friday, has told The Canadian Free Press that employers “refused to recognize and negotiate many clauses affecting job security and the jurisdiction of our members' duties.”

The strike activity comes just a month after the Canada Industrial Relations Board ruled on whether Montreal longshore workers provided an “essential service.” The board on June 8 said employers had not demonstrated that a strike would cause enough risk to public safety and security, thus making them ineligible to be designated as an essential service. In explaining its ruling, the board pointed to alternative routings and modes for cargo transport to the Montreal region if longshore workers did strike.

Contact Mark Szakonyi at mark.szakonyi@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @MarkSzakonyi.