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Seaway strike hits both sides of the border

A striking member of the union Unifor walks to a picket line

A striking member of the union Unifor walks to a picket line

Reuters

A strike by 361 workers at the St. Lawrence Seaway is impeding trade in Canada and the United States. Workers from five Unifor locals are asking for better pay amid the affordability crisis and have cited recent wins by autoworkers as inspiration.

The walkout, which began Sunday, affects the Seaway system connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic, facilitating trade from provinces and states, including the Canadian prairies and US Midwest, as well as Ontario, Quebec, and northern states such as New York.


The range of commodities stalled is vast, including grain, soybeans, barley, iron, steel, cement, stone, oil, petroleum products, and more. With most of the Seaway’s locks and ports closed for business, Bruce Burrows, CEO of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, says the strike will cost the economy upward of CA$100 million a day. Goods are being held up, ships backlogged, and trade shuffled — where possible — to trucks and rail.

The Seaway itself is a major source of revenue and jobs across the US and in Canada, accounting for over 240,000 positions and roughly CA$47 billion a year. US industry is already saying the strike has cost jobs in the country and expressed frustration at the slow bargaining process.

Canadian Labor Minister Seamus O’Reagan is hesitant to consider back-to-work legislation but is pressuring the two sides to reach an agreement on their own at the bargaining table. He says he’s in contact with US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose team is tracking the situation.

A recent strike by port workers in Vancouver lasted nearly five weeks. With harvest season in full swing, much of the produce that would normally be shipped along the St. Lawrence Seaway is at risk. That’s putting increased pressure on both Seaway management and the union, which resume talks on Friday, to strike a deal.

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