ISA Experience Class learning from Mike Steenhoek

Soy Transportation Coalition Executive Director Mike Steenhoek (Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)

Strike ends with reached labor agreement

November 2, 2023 | Bethany Baratta

An agreement between the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation and the Unifor union has been reached, reopening the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway systems to imports and exports.

On Oct. 22, 360 members of the Unifor union went on strike at the 13 Canadian locks along the St. Lawrence Seaway – rendering the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway closed for international exports and imports. Unifor is Canada’s largest private sector union. Unifor locals 4211, 4319, 4212, 4323, and 4320 have responsibility for operating the thirteen Canadian locks located between Montreal and Lake Erie. Given the location of these locks, any stoppage of operations at these locations essentially closed the front door to the entire Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway system.

Imports and exports between Oct. 22 and Oct. 29 ceased as the union worked to reach a resolution. The striking workers were at the 13 Canadian locks, not the two U.S.-based locks. However, since all the locks operate as a single system, any closure at one or more locks suspend operations of the entire system. 

Soy Transportation Coalition (STC) Executive Director Mike Steenhoek was pleased the strike was short-lived.

“Supply chains are a two-way street,” Steenhoek says. “Those who provide and operate supply chain options – like the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway – request and expect predictability and reliability from shippers regarding the expected usage of the supply chain option.  On the other hand, shippers – including agricultural exporters – rightfully expect the supply chain to be a predictable and reliable option if they are expected to utilize it.”

 The Soy Transportation Coalition was the first organization to partner with the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation on their Gateway Incentive Agreement, an initiative to encourage greater utilization of the system by providing a 50% toll reduction for new freight being transported via the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway. 

“Whenever a strike or slowdown occurs, that predictability and reliability are called into question,” Steenhoek says. “During this time of supply chain challenges and uncertainty, we are pleased the two parties arrived at an agreement so that the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway can be a viable option for the U.S. soybean industry to meet the needs of our international customers.”