Operations resumed at the Port of Montreal on May 1 after an act of Parliament ended a general strike of dockworkers, but labor issues contributed to a drop in decline in volumes and revenue in 2020, the port authority said.
The legislation passed on April 30 – four days after the general strike began – will lead to a new collective agreement between the dockworkers’ union Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 375 and the Maritime Employers Association (MEA) with no possibility of work stoppages, the port authority said.
“While a prior settlement between the parties would have been preferable, the strategic character of port operations has led to a decision that highlights the need to resume this major economic activity,” the port authority said.
Labor disputes have been a recurring issue at the Port of Montreal. CUPE Local 375 has not had a contract with the MEA since 2018. The union last went on strike for 12 days in August 2020, ending in a seven-month truce that expired in March. Since that deadline, some carriers have been advising their customers to avoid the port because a general strike could quickly create a pile-up of containers.
The uncertainty had an impact on the port authority’s bottom line. Net income in 2020 fell by 47% from 2019 to $16.8 million. Container volumes in 2020 were down 5.5% year on year to 1.6 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), while total volumes including liquids and dry bulk fell by 14% over the same period.
“Several events over the course of the year affected the results of the fiscal year, such as the rail blockade, the episodic dockworker strikes and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Montreal Port Authority said in statement following its annual meeting on May 3.
The port added that the legislation ending the dockworker’s strike was “a breath of fresh air given how much ground the Port of Montreal lost to competing ports on the US East Coast due to the uncertainty of the situation.”
The most recent data from The Port of New York and New Jersey showed container volumes increased by 13% in January-February from the same period last year amid a widespread surge in import volumes at North American ports.
A Canadian logistics director said he was optimistic that the Port of Montreal would quickly bounce back from its recent struggles.
“Montreal volumes have been hit, but I don’t see long term shifts away from the port,” the logistics director said. “Montreal is a fast shot into the US Midwest and Toronto, which are both huge markets.”
CUPE called the legislation ending the dockworkers’ strike unconstitutional and said it is determined to challenge the bill in court.