St. Lawrence Seaway strike in Canada shuts down oceangoing traffic on Great Lakes

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DULUTH, Minn. — A strike by unionized workers of Canada’s St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. that started Sunday morning has virtually shut down oceangoing shipping traffic on the entire seaway system.

Because the seaway is a linear system of canals and locks through Ontario, New York and Quebec, closure of any portion effectively results in closure of the entire waterway, officials of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority said Monday.

As a result of the strike, multiple ships loaded with exports are presently unable to exit the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System, and a growing line of inbound ships are unable to enter or pass through specific segments.

One vessel presently loading wheat in Duluth is scheduled to deliver its cargo to Algeria upon departure through the now-shuttered seaway, according to officials at the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. Several additional ships are scheduled to arrive in Duluth-Superior via the seaway for grain in the coming weeks. Various other vessels are scheduled to arrive with imports to support regional manufacturing.

Negotiators from the Canadian portion of the seaway management and the union attempted to reach an agreement on a new employment contract for several months. The union gave 72-hour strike notification Wednesday as required under Canadian law.

Negotiations are continuing between the corporation and union with officials urging a speedy settlement.

“This situation affects oceangoing activity for the entire Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System, which makes it everyone’s concern,” Deb DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, said in a statement released Monday. “This interruption of Seaway operation has immediate and longer-term consequences for Great Lakes ports, the entire Seaway System, and countries around the world hungry for our exports, especially now, during peak grain harvest season.”

DeLuca said the strike harms the reputation of the entire Great Lakes shipping system.

“Countries that rely on our grain exports are left waiting and hungry. The toll will continue mounting until the system reopens,’’ DeLuca said.

It is reportedly the first strike-related closure of the St. Lawrence Seaway during a shipping season since June 1968. The strike doesn’t impact inter-lake movement of cargo such as taconite iron ore between Minnesota and Great Lakes steel mills.

A recent economic impact analysis of commerce through the seaway showed that, in 2022, the waterway handled more than 36 million tons of cargo and supported more than 24,000 jobs in the United States and 42,000 in Canada. Seaway officials estimate that every day of a mid-season seaway shutdown costs the shared U.S./Canadian economy $50 million to $80 million.

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