Advertisement

CN Autoport strike ends, union votes to ratify agreement

Autoport workers are shown on Feb. 27 after going on strike.  (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)
Autoport workers are shown on Feb. 27 after going on strike. (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)

The union that represents more than 200 striking workers at the Autoport vehicle shipment facility in Eastern Passage, N.S., said its members have voted to ratify an agreement with the company ending a 37-day long strike.

An update posted to Unifor's website on Wednesday night stated that the agreement "sees wage increases in each year of the agreement and lump sum bonuses in years one and two, as well as an additional paid personal day, improvements to vacation, pensions, and the cost of benefits."

"We ratified a deal that was very similar to the tentative agreement that was rejected by the members,"  Jennifer Murray, the Atlantic regional director for Unifor, told CBC News after the vote on Wednesday night.

"There are certainly some additions to that, however it's been incredibly challenging for our members as you can imagine."

While Murray wouldn't provide a breakdown of how many people voted in favour of the agreement, she said the turnout was the biggest yet. For the duration of the strike, Murray noted CN Autoport had replacement workers doing the jobs of the striking workers. Almost 240 employees walked off the job on Feb. 27 after rejecting a previous tentative agreement.

"Watching someone doing your work is incredibly demoralizing and very disrespectful of this employer," she said. "Our members made a very hard decision today."

The Autoport, which is run by a subsidiary of CN, handles about 185,000 vehicles a year, according to the union. The vehicles, shipped by sea from places like Europe, are unloaded at the facility and put in lots before being moved to rail cars and transported to other parts of Canada.

In an interview with CBC News ahead of the vote on Wednesday, Murray said one of the main sticking points in negotiations has been wages.

"We're living in a time where it's tough putting food on the table, paying mortgage bills and rent and all of those things," she said in an interview.

A replacement worker at Autoport in Eastern Passage, N.S. drives a vehicle past Unifor members on strike Tuesday.
A replacement worker at Autoport in Eastern Passage, N.S. drives a vehicle past Unifor members on strike Tuesday.

A replacement worker drives a vehicle past striking Unifor members at the Autoport facility on Feb. 27. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Under the previous collective agreement, which expired in December, workers at the facility earn between $22.30 and $33.06 an hour after probation.

The striking employees are those who handle vehicles after they've been off-loaded from container ships. The Autoport brought in replacement workers to keep the facility operating, according to the union, which has criticized the move.

David Adams, president of the industry group Global Automakers of Canada, said the time between offloading a vehicle and getting it on a railcar has been longer during the strike. The facility handles European brands like Mercedes, BMW, Porsche and Volvo, he said.

Adams said he recognizes that cost of living is a big concern for union members, but he's seen an inclination at a number of ports, including in Vancouver last summer, to move too quickly to job action when contracts expire instead of continuing to bargain.

"As a nation, a trading nation especially, we need to ensure that our ports are operating efficiently and effectively, and in a manner that keeps Canada competitive on the global stage," he said.

Earlier Wednesday, a CN spokesperson confirmed in an email that a tentative agreement had been reached, but did not offer any details.

Murray told CBC News on Wednesday night that workers displayed courage throughout the strike.

"We have been fighting for anti-scab legislation federally and now it's introduced provincially. Our Unifor members are absolutely at the heart of that fight  ... we may be going back to work at CN Autoport, but this fight will continue."

MORE TOP STORIES