Sophie Bishop

Lisa Djevahirdjian | CUPE Communications

Due to back-to-work legislation this past April, the media turned their attention to the work of CUPE’s longshore workers, which dates back a hundred or so years at the Port of Montreal.

Though a traditionally male occupation, women currently hold 12.5% of positions represented by the Port of Montreal longshore workers union, CUPE 375. Like many of her female colleagues, Sophie Bishop, who has been a longshore worker since 2015, managed to gain employment at the port thanks to her father.

“My father and grandfather were longshore workers, and so too is my brother. I have cousins both male and female who are colleagues. At the outset, my father thought the work was too difficult and did not want me to get into it. But he eventually came around and I’m thrilled. I love what I’m doing, but I must admit it’s not for everyone,” she said.

The work is very demanding. Employees work 19 out of 21 days. Life-work balance is very difficult. Because the working conditions are rather out of the ordinary, the solidarity that exists among longshore workers is remarkable and almost unequalled.

“The camaraderie that longshore workers share is exceptional. Yes, it’s still pretty much a male environment, but the guys have adjusted quite well to the women who have been hired. The language on the job site does take some getting used to,” she said with a laugh. “It’s definitely not the place for sensitive ears.”

The work was physically harder before automation. Back in the day, men and women could only count on the raw strength their arms would muster when unloading a ship. Today, with the new machinery that has been developed, brute force is not as important as it once was, but the work requires a high level of concentration and dexterity when handling and moving containers weighing tonnes.

“It’s a great job where we work by the water. I’d really like it if more women signed on to work at the port! Maybe my son or daughter will work there one day,” added Sophie Bishop.