Accusations of violence as tensions rise in Port of Montreal labour dispute
Union, employer offer competing versions of altercation in parking area
Tensions are high in a labour dispute between the Port of Montreal and its longshoremen, with police investigating an altercation between the two sides Wednesday evening.
Martin Tessier, president of the Maritime Employers Association, said managers who had been serving as replacement workers were attacked after being bused to their cars at a location away from the port.
The union says the longshoremen had moved their picket line to the parking lot and that the situation escalated when a vehicle driven by a security guard assigned to protect the managers pushed through the picket line.
A Montreal police spokesperson said a 911 call came in around 7 p.m. from a parking lot near the Olympic Stadium. Police said the managers were assaulted, harassed and intimidated, and some items were stolen.
Tessier said the replacement workers were met in the parking lot by a group of 50 to 80 people, including union executives.
"Some were hit in the face, some got their wallets stolen, some got their cell phones stolen," Tessier said. "Some of the people had wooden sticks and they were banging them on the ground. That was clearly intimidation, clearly violence."
Canadian Union of Public Employees spokesperson Michel Murray said the striking longshoremen were not there to "ambush" the replacement workers, but were part of a "flying picket line" that sought, as usual, to delay the replacement workers' trip home.
He said the situation boiled over when a car pushed through the picket line and one of the longshoremen ended up on the vehicle's hood.
Watch footage from the incident:
Murray said he could neither confirm nor deny allegations of violence because he was not at the picket line, but that "amateur video" he had seen revealed nothing. He said the union would talk to its members and let the police investigate the allegations of physical violence.
Murray said the union condemns violence and intimidation, and will take responsibility for its members' actions if anything is determined to have happened.
But he said the Maritime Employers Association needs to take responsibility for ratcheting up the tension in the first place by bringing in "strikebreakers," a "provocation" that deeply angered the longshoremen.
"That's the first time in 40 years we've seen strikebreakers used during a legal strike or a legal lockout," Murray said.
In Quebec, the use of strikebreakers has been illegal since 1977. Only management personnel are allowed to replace striking workers. However, the port is under federal jurisdiction and provincial labour law does not apply to it.
Tessier is asking police to keep the replacement workers safe, and has asked the federal government to intervene in negotiations. He says it's important for the dispute to be resolved as Canada prepares for a second wave of COVID-19.
The four-day strike began Monday. Work schedules are the major issue. The union says longshoremen currently work 19 consecutive days out of 21 year-round, apart from public holidays and days the port is closed.