Railway and Port of Montreal Labor Disputes | Risk of “unprecedented” disruptions

By water, by land and by rail: the specter of logistics chain paralysis in eastern Canada deepens with a strike that threatens to paralyze the country’s two largest rail carriers starting May 22. Enough to revive bad pandemic memories for some.

The ultimatum was issued Wednesday by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents 9,300 National Railway Company (CN) and Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) employees. 98% of them voted to pull out in three weeks unless an agreement is reached in principle with the two companies.

“The current strike at CN and CPKC could disrupt the nation’s supply chain in an unprecedented way,” Teamsters President Paul Boucher said during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. That is not our strategy. However, we are not convinced that it is the same for both companies. »

The labor dispute, which could slow the movement of goods from coast to coast, adds to concerns about the impasse between seafarers at the Port of Montreal and their employer, the Maritime Employers Association, and uncertainty at the Canada Border Services Agency.

The current work stoppage would result in significant headaches for the supply chain, which is currently recovering from the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. From memory, Jacques Roy, professor of transportation management at HEC Montreal, doesn’t recall seeing so much uncertainty awaiting key players in the coast-to-coast logistics chain.

“I don’t remember that,” he says. The closest is what happened with the pandemic, where we practically stopped the economy on purpose. And even then the break wasn’t that long. »

The Trudeau government seems well aware of this catastrophic scenario. The assistant deputy minister and head of the National Supply Chain Authority contacted the private sector on April 12 to outline the potential implications.

“We invite you to share your views and discuss the possible impacts on your respective sectors,” the invitation stated, which Press was able to advise.

At the Port of Montreal, the contract of about 1,100 union members expired on December 31, and mediation between the two sides is deadlocked.

“The mediators have agreed to remain in regular contact with the parties in order to assess the future of things,” union president Martin Lapierre said in a bulletin sent to his members on April 29. .

B is already planning

Rising prices and tariffs, delays and other unforeseen events: the health crisis has taken a toll on importers and exporters of goods. In this industry, we have learned to be more resilient, explains Pierre Dolbec, president of customs broker Dolbec International. Everyone can find ways to adapt, he says, but it always comes with additional expenses.

This awaits entrepreneurs in the event of an outage in CN and CPKC.

“We would almost paralyze everything related to ground transportation,” Mr. Dolbec says during a phone interview. Road transport will remain, but with an invoice. It costs $12,000 to ship a container here by truck from Western Canada. A single container. It makes no sense. »

In a sign that an ultimatum is expected from drivers, locomotive engineers and station staff on the country’s two main railways, some companies are already working to find alternatives.

In a letter sent to its suppliers on Monday – that Press acquired – grocery chain Sobeys (IGA in Quebec) recommends that they put “significant preparatory measures” in place to prevent a breach. Among other things, they are recommended to reduce the number of part-load orders and especially to speed up their purchases.

“For carrier-driven shipping, we expect you to organize your carrier network and maintain strong service across all regions,” Sobeys writes. We ask suppliers to proactively plan and better manage this limitation. »

In collaboration with Marie-Eve Fournier, Press

Labor conflicts are looming in the supply chain


Both runways could be in neutral on May 22. These two rail carriers operate two major networks in the country, which would cripple the supply chain. The main stumbling block in negotiations concerns working hours. The Teamsters say employers want key rest provisions removed from labor contracts.

Port of Montreal

Mediation between workers at the Port of Montreal and their employer, the Association of Maritime Employers (AEM), has been neutral since late April. About 1,100 union members represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees almost unanimously rejected the employer’s offer on April 17. AEM says it has gone “as far as it can” with its proposal. Although relations are strained, the union has not yet called a meeting to vote on the strike.


About 9,000 Canada Border Services Agency workers are voting on a strike mandate until May 15. Points of contention include pay parity with organizations such as the RCMP, the use of subcontracting and job security. In the event of an outage, essential services would be maintained, but cross-border traffic may be affected.

Port of Quebec

About 80 workers at the Port of Quebec were locked out for about 600 days. In this case, activities can continue as the employer, the Stevedoring Company, uses substitute workers due to the lack of a valid anti-scab law. Working hours are at the heart of the dispute.

Find out more

  • 92%
    Rate of participation in strike votes in CN and CPKC

    Source: Teamsters Canada

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