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Great Lakes-Seaway News' purpose is to provide news, critical information updates, and thoughtful commentary to those who care about the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System specifically, and the maritime industry in general. It is important that Great Lakes-Seaway News also become a forum and online meeting place so that ideas can be presented, issues can be debated and relationships can be made to advance the seaway system’s interests for now and for the future.

Therefore, Great Lakes Seaway News will serve as the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System's newspaper, its online bulletin board, its meeting place for innovation and discussion, and its clubhouse for the development of plans and activities which will serve those who participate in the online marketplace of ideas.

Great Lakes-Seaway News is an independent publication and as such, is not affiliated in any way with the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, the Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or any other agencies of the governments of the United States of America or Canada. 

Great Lakes-Seaway News is a publication of PRI Strategy Management, Inc.  All rights reserved.


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SLSMC Responds to Strike Notice from Unionized Employees

Yesterday, the Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) responded to a 72-hour strike notice presented on October 28 to the managers of Canada's thirteen St. Lawrence Seaway locks by Unifor, the union that represents the bulk of the SLSMC's workers. The strike notice, which was reportedly supported by 94 percent of the SLSMC's unionized employees says a work stoppage could begin as soon as 12:15 pm tomorrow.

For its part, the SLSMC says it plans to continue negotiations facilitated by a federally appointed mediator while at the same time, making preparations of an orderly shutdown of its operations on the international waterway.

While the SLSMC's U.S. counterpart, the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC) which operates the Eisenhower and Snell Locks at Massena, NY will remain open, the Canadian operations east and west of the SLSDC's operations will render the waterway effectively closed if the St. Lawrence Seaway System's Canadian workers go on strike.

The SLSDC's response can be found below or on the St. Lawrence Seaway website.   

The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) was served with a 72-hour notice to strike by UNIFOR on October 28, 2014.  The union intends to begin strike action as of 12:15 PM on Friday, October 31, 2014. UNIFOR represents the Seaway’s 460 unionized employees.

The SLSMC is currently in the process of implementing a modernization program which incorporates Hands Free Mooring and Remote Lock Operation. This program is essential to ensuring that the Seaway can operate on a basis that is both safe and sustainable. Contrary to union allegations, the SLSMC is confident that it will continue to process ships through its locks in a safe and secure manner.

Despite UNIFOR’s strike notice, the SLSMC remains committed to obtaining a fair settlement, and will continue to bargain in good faith with the assistance of a federally appointed mediator.

As a result of UNIFOR’s strike notification, SLSMC has started implementing its detailed plans for an orderly and safe shutdown of the system within the 72-hour notice period. Should the unionized workers proceed with strike action, as scheduled, the St. Lawrence Seaway will be closed to all traffic.


Unifor Delivers Strike Notice To Canadian Seaway Corporation

Unifor, the labor union representing the unionized workers of the Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC), has given notice of a possible strike against the Corporation that could start as early as 12:15 pm this Friday, October 31.

Unifor represents 110 supervisory employees, approximately 450 operations and maintenance employees working on or near the Niagara Region (Welland Canal) and the Maisonneuve Region (Montreal-Lake Ontario) of the international waterway and approximately 20 office employees working at SLSMC's headquarters in Cornwall, ON.

Unifor has five locals and 460 members working for the Canadian SLSMC.  Each of the union's five locals gave a 72 hour strike notice yesterday indicating a strike could begin as early as Firday.

The SLSMC and Unifor reengaged in contract talks this week on a contract renewal. The workers have been working without a new contract since three collective bargaining agreements expired on March 14, 2014.  A mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is assisting the parties with negotiations. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service provides dispute resolution and prevention assistance to trade unions and employers under Canadian labor law.

At issue are staffing levels at the 13 locks operated by the SLSMC which has been retrofitting its locks with an automated mooring system so it could reduce the numbers of line-handlers it employs. Unifor officials say staffing levels at the locks are a key issue and said that is a key contract issue, and some staff should be kept at the locks to respond to emergencies.

Minister Leitch released a stateent whch said, "Our government is disappointed that the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation and Unifor have not come to terms on the collective agreements. I strongly encourage both parties to continue negotiating to find a solution that will benefit everyone. The best solution in any dispute is always the one that the parties reach themselves."

The U.S. locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway are operated U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation and the unionized workers there are U.S. federal employees represented by the American Federation of Government Employees.  The U.S. workers are operating under a contract and are not part of the current disagreement between the SLSMC and its employee union.  


Global Economic Factors A Cause for Concern in Great Lakes Economy

Global economic jitters have sent equity markets in North America, Europe and Asia on a wide ride this month.  News media focus on the Ebola pandemic sent airline stocks plummeting.  Slow economic growth in Europe shook the financial foundations of the manufacturing and banking industries. 

Companies dependent on steady and stable economic growth have taken a hit as the market value of oil companies and raw material producers have declined by 2 percent in the past few weeks.  Business confidence in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, declined for a sixth consecutive month in September. 

Oil prices have tumbled as supply has now outstripped supply and Goldman Sachs said slowing economic growth around the world led it to an even lower forecast for crude prices.  Benchmark crude oil prices have been in free fall, having tumbled from a high of $107 per barrel in June to $81 per barrel in New York yesterday.

While lower energy prices are generally welcomed as good news by those involved in the transportation industry, and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway maritime industry is no exception, lower fuel prices may be an even bigger boon to less fuel-efficient forms of transportation, like rail, barge, and truck. 

Slow economic growth and lower industrial demand seem to be already baked into the current economic cake. This has led to very weak iron ore and coal demand this year that have held down Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway cargo tonnages.

While the grain export surge experienced by the St. Lawrence Seaway System this year has been a welcome event that has pushed millions of tons of cargo through the international waterway, an economic slowdown in Europe may put a damper on future freight demand.

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System, after all, is the closest, fastest and most economic way between Europe and the heartland of North America.  Hopefully, the current economic slowdown in Europe is more a a short-term dip than a long-term trough and non-agricultural Seaway traffic will rebound next year.  


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SLSMC Will Meet With Union Reps Next Week 

Contract talks are scheduled to resume next week between the Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) and members of three Unifor locals in Ontario and Quebec representing workers along the vital waterway.

"We are looking forward to getting back to the table and reaching a deal that is fair to all," said Joel Fournier, Unifor National Representative.

The two sides have not met since talks broke off in April. Unifor filed for federal conciliation in August, but the SLSMC has reportedly refused to meet until now. The talks are set to resume Tuesday, October 28 in Cornwall, Ontario.

"Transits are up this year on the Seaway. Why the Seaway would refuse to negotiate with the union up to this point, and risk having a work stoppage is difficult to understand," said Fournier.

The 460 members of Unifor along the St. Lawrence Seaway from Niagara to Montreal are in Locals 4212 and 4211 in Niagara and Cornwall, Locals 4319 and 4320 in Montreal and Local 4323 in Iroquois, Ontario. The workers have voted 96 per cent in favour of striking, if that becomes necessary.

The Seaway announced in April that it had received funding from the federal government to automate the locks along the Seaway, eliminating some of the staff currently working on the SLSMC operated St. Lawrence Seaway locks in Canada.

Work has already begun to retrofit Lock 3 on the Welland Canal with the new automated mooring system. All locks across the Seaway are to be retrofitted by 2018. Unifor would like to see minimum staffing levels maintained on the locks as a safety measure and to ensure good jobs remain for future generations.

Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector, representing more than 305,000 workers. It was formed Labour Day weekend 2013 when the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union merged.