Detroit – Trucks crossed the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit and the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, delayed by hours as unionized workers at Canadian border agencies launched a “rule book” action that effectively slowed the passage of traffic across the northern border.
It wasn’t just Detroit. Commercial traffic was delayed at several major border crossings between the United States and Canada. Wait times were also two hours at the Buffalo border bridge, the Buffalo News reported, and the Canadian government’s wait time monitor reported delays of more than five hours at a port in Washington state.
Friday night the trucks were waiting three hours to crossthe Blue Water Bridge, according to the wait time system. At times, vehicles were backed up for miles in stop-and-go traffic as far west and south as Interstate 94, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation’s traffic map.
Commercial truck drivers waited about two hours to cross the Ambassador Bridge to Windsor on Friday evening, Canadian says border wait time system. There has been no delay in the flow of traffic, although the border is not yet open for most travelers.
The work slowdown is intended to put pressure on Canadian officials to meet with workers’ unions at the bargaining table in a contract dispute that has lasted for years, experts said. The action precedes Canadian government plans to reopen the border to fully vaccinated U.S. travelers on Monday following a 17-month COVID-induced shutdown.
Border slowdown by unionized workers and the Canada Border Services Agency threatens to undermine any economic momentum Canadian border economies, like Windsor and Sarnia, could benefit from increased tourism from vaccinated Americans. It also threatens to scold cross-border freight traffic, exacerbating supply chain problems already plaguing auto industry production.
Auto factories don’t have a lot of inventory on-site, so they rely heavily on suppliers crossing the Ambassador in Detroit and the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, said Glenn Stevens, executive director of the Detroit Regional Chamber for MICHauto.
“They take (supplies) just in time to build vehicles,” Stevens said. “Any disruption, literally hours and certainly days, is something that would certainly disrupt the ability to produce vehicles.”
Unions representing border service workers spent Thursday evening through Friday morning negotiating contracts with the Canadian government, union officials said in a statement on Friday. The workers have been without contracts for three years and negotiations have stalled.
“We continued to serve Canadians throughout the pandemic – keeping our borders secure, screening travelers for COVID-19 and clearing shipments of vital vaccines,” said Mark Weber, National President from the Customs and Immigration Union earlier this week. “Now it is time for the government to stand up for the (border services agency) employees.”
The work slowdown is occurring at all airports, border crossings, commercial shipping ports and postal facilities across Canada.
A work-to-rule action is also known as a “job slowdown,” said Michelle Kaminski, associate professor of human resources and labor relations at Michigan State University. Workers take the time to follow all the rules in the book instead of using their judgment to let vehicles pass more freely.
Three years is an unusually long period without a contract, she said, especially in the public sector which is generally less hostile to worker groups.
“It’s been a long time,” Kaminski said. “The strategic choice is, ‘OK, we have to increase the pressure on management because what we have done is not getting us a deal.
“The greatest source of power workers have is to withhold their jobs.”
Although the delays affect businesses, economies and drivers on both sides of the border, Kaminski said it is reasonable for essential workers to advocate for good working conditions and good for the public to have employees. skilled and satisfied border services at work.
“I know this causes significant inconvenience to the public and significant disruption, and that’s part of how it puts pressure on management,” she said. “The audience is not the target. The goal is to get management to agree.”
Ambassador Bridge general manager Randy Spader said the bridge owners are monitoring the labor dispute and working closely with the Canada Border Services Agency to minimize delays.
“We ask for your patience during the crossing while the CBSA and the Canadian government resolve this issue,” he said on Friday.
The private Ambassador Bridge is owned by the Moroun family, who sought to stop the construction of a second public span known as the Gordie Howe Bridge between Detroit and Windsor. The family also owns an international trucking and logistics company, Central Transport International.
Businesses remain concerned. Michigan’s iconic auto industry depends on the Blue Water and Ambassador Bridges to move “an incredible amount of components every day,” said Stevens of the Detroit chamber.
“Any day that cannot come is a difficult day,” he said. “Considering all the other issues the industry has had, like the chip shortage, like the weather issues last month and this global pandemic situation, this can be a very, very impactful situation.”
Automakers said they were getting over Friday’s delays.
“We are working with our associations, suppliers and other partners to ensure that everyone remains focused on the importance of the continued free flow of goods across the border,” General Motors Co. spokesperson David Barnas said. .
Stellantis spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said the manufacturer was monitoring the situation and it had not impacted production.
Lisa Rubino, president of Horizon Freight Systems in Detroit, said Friday she had not been made aware of the type of delays, if any, experienced by her drivers at the Ambassador Bridge. The company transports maritime import and export containers.
Rubino said she had two truck drivers crossing the bridge once or twice a week.
“We have not experienced any delay in the pending detention time,” she said. “With this new development? Hmm, it could get hairy.”
Editors Breana Noble, Kalea Hall, Beth LeBlanc and Candice Williams contributed.