On the Picket Line

Quebec ferry workers strike for pay, jobs, time off

By Katy LeRougetel
September 20, 2021

SOREL, Quebec — Hundreds of ferry workers went on strike at five Saint Lawrence River crossings in Quebec on the Labour Day weekend. From here, northeast of Montreal, to Matane near the Atlantic coast, members of the United Steelworkers and  Association of Ferry Workers set up lively pickets at the terminals for two days. The ferry workers are an affiliate of Quebec’s Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN).

“We deserve a good wage,” Annie Lévesque, who has worked as a seaman for six months, told two Communist League campaigners who brought solidarity to the strikers here Sept. 4. “I haven’t seen my kids all summer. We do lots of overtime because there aren’t enough staff. This summer I had one weekend off.”

These workers “are among the least well-paid of all the public sector,” Nathalie Arguin, president of the CSN’s public-sector workers federation, told the press. Marine engineering and navigation officers, the Steelworkers-organized strikers, earn an average of CA$8-$10 an hour less than their private-sector counterparts.

The ferry in Sorel brings commuters across the river, as well as freight for construction and other industries. Strikers said they take very seriously their responsibility for the safety of passengers and others. Several described recent life-saving rescues of a man suffering a severe allergic attack in the parking lot, and a water rescue of a man drowning after falling from his surf board.

While some issues have been settled, conflicts over overtime pay, shift premiums and increased benefits remain. Strikers are also looking to make full time a job in Matane that bosses have classified as “temporary” for years. Negotiations have dragged on for 18 months without a contract.