Crippling Seaway strike looms
Nathan Vanderklippe, Canwest News Service Published: Friday, October 03, 2008
VANCOUVER - Steamship lines, steel mills, grain exporters and even the oilsands are bracing for a potentially serious rupture in Canada's transportation network as workers on the St. Lawrence Seaway near a critical strike deadline.
The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. or its 445 unionized employees can deliver 72-hour notice as early as Oct. 10, a possibility serious enough that some ocean-going freighters have already fled for fear of being stranded and the Shipping Federation of Canada has begun petitioning Ottawa to intervene.
A work stoppage would bring shipping through the Seaway a vital international artery for the movement of iron, coal, wheat and other goods to a halt.
"If we are struck ... the system will go down," Richard Corfe, the waterway's president and chief executive, told a Vancouver maritime conference this week.
Represented by the CAW, the workers have been without a contract since April 1 as they duel over the Seaway's bid to modernize its operations.
Though workers have job guarantees and the Seaway has promised no layoffs, it is seeking to install new systems that would replace some lock workers with robots. The union has fought that effort, saying tests of the hands-free mooring technology have been a "dismal failure."
"We realize as a union that changes are coming. But we want them to prove to us that it works and that it's safe," said Jim McGrath, chairman of CAW Local 4212, who said the union is "striving very hard to get an agreement."
A last-ditch negotiating effort will begin on Monday, when the two sides begin a week-long session with the help of two mediators. Though Seaway workers have not walked out since 1969, Corfe said in an interview this time may be different.
"We're closer to a strike this time around than we have been ever in my career and I've been with the Seaway for 25 years," he said. "The difference this time around is this is a fork in the road for us. We either accept that we're not going to put new technology in and live with a 19th-century system, or we stay with the times."
Corfe said "we're very confident we'll be able to get through this issue," but those who depend on the Seaway have already begun shaking up their plans. The system typically contains 30 ocean-going vessels at this time of year. By Wednesday, only 18 remained, as ship owners removed their vessels to avoid having their $20,000-a-day carriers stranded. Others, such as Canada Steamship Lines, are preparing to position vessels at either end of the Seaway.
Contingency plans have quickly been drafted across the country from Hamilton steelmaker ArcelorMittal Dofasco, which receives nearly all of its raw inputs by water, to western wheat farmers, who are bracing for potential payment delays. Seaway cargo volumes have risen by 10 per cent in recent weeks, as customers stockpile goods, while grain handlers such as Richardson International Ltd. have begun seeking out other options including trucking and rail transport, or shipping through the West Coast.
"People are on pins and needles, watching this very closely," said Jean-Marc Ruest, Richardson's vice-president of corporate affairs.
Observers say a prolonged strike could cause the entire Great Lakes industrial complex to slow, and bring serious problems much farther abroad.
"People I've gotten calls from are worried that if ships with project cargo for the tarsands don't get in on time, that will shut down a project for year," said Shipping Federation of Canada president Michael Broad.
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10-03-2008, 10:37 AM #1
- Join Date
- Mar 2002
- Loco madidus effercio in rutilus effercio.
This Might Be Of Interest To You Inland Waterway Guys
10-03-2008, 11:51 AM #2
- Join Date
- Mar 2004
- Memphis Tn,USA-now
If anyone does not understand the term "ripple effect" ,then just watch this story.
When goods do not come into the country or leave the country,then it can and does cause a slow down of goods moving around the country.
Usually,the only limit to how big you can build a tow of barges is based on the water level.When the level is low,the channel is smaller and the barges cannot be loaded as deeply(9 ft) to avoid running aground.
When the water level is high,you cannot have too many barges in a tow as the boat has to fight the current and the weight of all that metal and product and sometimes loses.This gives rise to the river term "bridge buster" which refers to a pilot who cannot go downstream without hitting anything,or an incident where a bridge or other stationary object gets hit.
It is a rule of thumb that is not taught at The River School (a license prep school for inland mariners)that you never have enough horsepower to handle the barges the fleet dispatcher gives to you to move.
Either way,the transport of goods is going to slow down enough that traffic in other areas well away from the St Lawrence is going to be affected.
10-08-2008, 12:36 PM #3
- Join Date
- Jun 2002
- Glenn Dale Md, Heart of the P.G. County Fire Belt....
Doug - Agreed!...... I'm Convinced that Murphy, of Murphy's Law fame, was once a Dispatcher.
Rick - Is there no law that would enable the Government to intervene?? It would seem that National Security could be a concern here.
And, a footnote to the comment about Truck or Rail transport options. Canada is not a hospitible environment for Truck Transport in Winter, which is fast approaching there. And the Railroads are running near capacity under normal circumstances, I don't see where there is room for more traffic. One of you folks from B.C. correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks like the Grain Terminals out there are also working overtime just dealing with a normal harvest this year. I'll look at a few Railroad things and get back with a better view.
Last edited by hwoods; 10-08-2008 at 12:48 PM.Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
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10-08-2008, 07:30 PM #4
- Join Date
- Mar 2004
- Memphis Tn,USA-now
10-08-2008, 09:20 PM #5
Oh man, that would be bad for everyone involved.
I can just see Lake Superior and Lake Michigan get jammed up with ships and barges. Just 130 miles north of me at Superior, WI would be so full of ore ships you could walk across the harbor and not get your feet wet. The town would shut down too with nothing coming in or going out.
Not a good thing for one way in and one way out of the Great Lakes area.Jason Knecht
Altoona Fire Dept.
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