By Gerard Di Trolio
The Blue Water Bridge is the fourth busiest border crossing by total vehicles between Canada and the United States in Ontario. It is also an essential economic route, as it the second busiest border crossing by commercial traffic like transport trucks.
Blue Water Bridge Employees have been without a contract since November 2014. Their union, PSAC Local 501 have been trying to gain a status quo contract with a small raise as a cost of living adjustment. The local represents currency exchangers, toll collectors, cleaners, and maintenance workers.
However, management has been playing hardball since the last contract expired.
“It was all concessions on the table. Everything we had in our previous collective agreement, they wanted to modify, remove or change,” says PSAC Local 501 President Paul Haney.
Haney identified two specific concessions that management was seeking. First was a modification to the discipline policy which Haney says is “unacceptable to our members.” Second was changes to the language surrounding benefits. For example workplace benefits cease for those who work past the age of 65. The union wishes to end this age discrimination.
This is the first strike in the history of the Blue Water Bridge and the first contract negotiations handled by the Federal Bridge Corporation, a crown corporation which assumed control over the Blue Water Bridge last year.
Raising public awareness of the strike and the issues involved has been an important strategy for PSAC. Nearby Sarnia has a reputation as a union town and PSAC is taking advantage of that. PSAC has reached out to other unions the represent truck drivers like the the Steelworkers, the Teamsters, and Unifor to let them know of the strike.
“They [Blue Water Bridge workers] actually have a lot of support. The commuters that pass through a lot and the truck drivers that pass through a lot, know them because they are the face of the bridge,” says Lino Vieira, Communications Officer for PSAC Ontario Region.
Vieira adds that PSAC has done media releases across Ontario as well as targeting media in Michigan like the Detroit Free Press.
While no delays crossing the Blue Water Bridge have been reported, there is speculation that given the media attention the strike has received, that drivers are using the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit to cross the border.
With no talks between the sides scheduled, declining toll revenues during the holiday season may encourage the Federal Bridge Corporation back to the bargaining table.