Strike threat on Seaway includes ToledoWritten by Don Lee | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A threatened strike over automation of the locks on the St. Lawrence Seaway could cut off international traffic to Great Lakes ports, including Toledo.
The strike, if it happens, could begin as early at the afternoon of Oct. 31.
Unifor, a Canadian union representing workers on the Seaway, served a 72-hour strike notice to Seaway management, according to news reports, most of which cited a Unifor news release.
At issue is the automation of the mooring process used in the locks along the Seaway, which includes the Welland Canal linking Lakes Erie and Ontario. The Welland locks raise and lower ships around Niagara Falls. Lock crews handle mooring lines, which secure the ships while they are raised or lowered.
In April, the Seaway announced it had received government funding to automate the process, effectively eliminating the jobs of the lock crews.
“We believe that having no one at the lock is not a good idea,” said Joel Fournier, Unifor national representative, in the news release. “The risk of an environmental disaster with all of the dangerous cargo going through the Seaway is very real.”
The earliest a strike could begin is 12:15 p.m. Oct. 31, according to the news release, which said 96 percent of workers had voted earlier to support a strike.
Increased cargo “throughput” — for example, cargo brought in on ships and sent elsewhere by other means — at Midwest Terminals, which handles most of Toledo’s overseas cargo, resulted in a 54 percent increase in general cargo through September, compared to the same period in 2013, according to the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.
Great Lakes shipping would be less affected, as lake freighter cargo for the most part stays in the four upper lakes. The locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, linking Lakes Huron and Superior, are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Meanwhile, negotiations will continue with the assistance of a mediator appointed by the Canadian federal government, according to the Welland (Ontario) Tribune newspaper website.
The Seaway said the strike notification has prompted the implementation of “detailed plans for an orderly and safe shutdown of the system within the 72-hour notice period,” the Welland Tribute reported.