On the Picket Line

Locked-out Quebec longshore workers fight 12-hour shifts

By John Steele
October 17, 2022

QUEBEC CITY — Spirits were high at the union tent on the main road into the Port of Quebec City Sept. 26, when Felix Vincent Ardea, a Canadian National Railway train conductor and member of the Teamsters union, and this Militant correspondent visited the picket line to bring solidarity.

The 81 dockworkers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, were locked out Sept. 15 two weeks after they voted to take strike action. They had been working-to-rule to put pressure on the port bosses to negotiate, workers told us. Then security guards told them to get their things and get out.

A sign painted on a wall of the tent said, “81 families thrown onto the street.” A second sign listed the names of 14 management “scabs,” charging them with “betraying the longshore workers.”

Another sign used biting irony to refer to the central issue in the fight — the bosses’ efforts to impose 12-hour work shifts. It said, “Wanted, longshore workers. Single, no children, no friends, available 24/7.”

Vincent Ardea pointed to the similarity between the conditions the longshore workers face and those of rail workers, whose work schedules also wreck family life and create exhaustion on the job. This is a recipe for accidents that can cause injury and death to the workers and others living near the tracks, he said.

“With our eight-day ‘strike for safety’ in 2019 we were able to prevent the CN bosses from imposing worse and more dangerous conditions on us,” he said. He told pickets he was standing as a Communist League candidate in the Oct. 3 Quebec provincial election.

“It’s really terrible that the employer is capable of showing our members the door while we’re still at the bargaining table,” said Dominic Cordeau in a Sept. 15 Canadian Union of Public Employees statement. Negotiations for a new contract began last June.

The port bosses claim that the longer shifts are required because of a labor shortage. “Diminishing the quality of working conditions is no way to attract new workers, and the members are mobilized on this issue,” Cordeau said.

“The position of the parties are irreconcilable,” the company says. “In the present context the union demands are impossible to satisfy.” Negotiations are scheduled to take place this month.

The Port of Quebec City is one of the five most important ports in Canada, handling both container cargo ships as well as passenger cruise liners.