St. Lawrence Seaway shut as strike continues

Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
St. Lawrence Seaway shut as strike continues
A cargo vessel transiting the St. Lawrence Seaway.

IROQUOIS – Traffic through the Canadian operations of the St. Lawrence Seaway has halted due to a strike by unionized employees represented by Unifor.

A 72-hour strike notification was filed by the union on October 18 and its members took to the picket line Sunday morning (October 22).

“This impasse is extremely unfortunate but our members remain committed to getting a fair agreement,” said Lana Payne, Unifor’s national president.

As picket lines started up, operations through the Canadian locks shut down. Operations on the Canadian side of the system from Montréal and Valleyfield, QC, Iroquois ON, and the Welland Canal were shuttered. In all, 13 of the 15 locks on the St. Lawrence Seaway are closed to traffic.

Terence Bowls, president and CEO of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation said that corporation was dedicated to finding a resolution to the strike but the union had made little movement on its demands.

“The stakes are high,” he said. “In these economically and geopolitically critical times, it is important that the Seaway remains a reliable transportation route for the efficient movement of essential cargoes between North America and the remainder of the world.”

About 360 unionized employees across the SLSMC are currently on strike, and have been without a contract since March 31.

Overall, traffic has been down on the Seaway during the 2023 shipping season with the only bright light being increased grain shipments.

This is the latest disruption to shipping supply chains. Earlier this year, Canada’s international ports in Montréal and Vancouver were struck with a 15-day walkout. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has called for the federal government to intervene saying the strike will cost the economy $34 million per day.

The SLSMC claims there are over 100 ships waiting to enter the Seaway system, impacting trade. There are no ships trapped between the locks in Iroquois and Montréal.

Traffic between ports on Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River to the Port of Johnston remain in operation, as do operations on Lake Erie to Lake Superior. Several ships are currently moored near the Welland Canal on Lake Erie, and around the Port Of Montréal awaiting the reopening of the Seaway.

Late Tuesday afternoon (October 24) the federal government called both sides back to the table for mediated talks between the union and SLSMC. Those talks will begin October 27 in Toronto. St. Lawrence Seaway operations will remain shuttered during this time.

This article was originally written for the Morrisburg Leader. 

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