St. Lawrence Seaway hoping to avoid strike

(Resource News International) — Officials with the St. Lawrence
Seaway Management Corp. (SLSMC) are optimistic that a
strike by its 445 employees can still be avoided.

Any strike
action would essentially paralyze movement of crops and other commodities along
the international St. Lawrence Seaway.

Either the SLSMC or its 44 unionized employees, represented by the
Canadian Auto Workers union, can deliver 72 hours’ notice of
lockout or strike, respectively, as early as Oct. 10.

“We are very optimistic that a strike can be averted,”

Andrew Bogora, the communications officer for the SLSMC, said in
reference to formal negotiations which are slated for Monday (Oct. 6).

A week has been set aside for the negotiations, which will
include two federal mediators.

The workers have been without a contract since April 1.

SLSMC wants to move forward
with the installation of new technology, Bogora said, and it will
guarantee the jobs of all employees.

Contingency plans by the SLSMC, as well as by companies that
rely on the seaway, were in the process of being put in place,
Bogora said, not wanting to disclose details.

He acknowledged that ocean vessels transiting the St.
Lawrence and the Great Lakes have been warned about the
potential labor disruption and that no guarantees were available
for the smooth movement of ships after Sept. 28.

Officials with the CAW were not available for comment.
However, in published news articles, the union was said to be
striving very hard to reach a new labour agreement.

The union was aware that changes were coming, but wanted

assurances that the new technology is safe.

Transportation sources, meanwhile, have indicated that
movement of the seaway has increased significantly as shippers
try to move as much product as possible before any disruption.

They noted that contingency plans for some grain companies
could include moving western Canadian grains and oilseeds directly to
East Coast transfer elevators by rail car instead of by laker vessels.

Grain and oilseeds from Western Canada are generally railed
to port facilities at Thunder Bay, Ont. From there the grain
and oilseeds are generally transferred from Thunder Bay terminals
to East Coast transfer elevators located at the mouth of the St.
Lawrence Seaway system by laker vessels. Some smaller ocean-going
vessels can also load at Thunder Bay terminals.

A strike by seaway employees would result in a
loss of East Coast shipping capacity at a time when western
Canadian farmers can least afford it, said Rick Steinke, director of
logistics for the Canadian Wheat Board.

The 3,700-km St. Lawrence Seaway, which connects the
Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean, is typically open for
traffic from late March to late December.

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