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Canadian industry groups seek swift resolution to Canadian National strike

A Canadian National train heads to its next destination. Image: Flickr/Chu Shau-Luen

Canadian industry groups that depend on the railways to deliver their goods both domestically and internationally ae pressing the parties to end the union strike at Canadian National (NYSE: CNI) soon.

Members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference began their strike on Nov. 19 against Canadian National (CN). The union, which represents conductors, trainspersons and yard workers, walked away from their jobs over issues related to safety, working conditions and benefits. The federal government is mediating the talks between the Teamsters and CN. 

CN estimates that it transports more than C$250 billion of goods annually via its Canadian and U.S. network.

“The Western Grain Elevator Association (WGEA) is urging the federal government to use any means at its disposal to ensure a labour disruption does not occur, including the introduction of emergency legislation if required,” said WGEA executive director Wade Sobkowich. 

The strike comes at a time when there is an extremely difficult harvest due to grain quality issues, volumes still needing to be harvested and increasing trade restrictions, Sobkowich said. 

“The silver lining this fall has been rail service. With car order fulfilment percentages in the mid- to high-nineties, we have been able to count on CN to provide capacity for grain movements so we are not forgoing sales opportunities,” Sobkowich said.

But “now, with a work stoppage situation, we run the risk of adding rail service to the list of issues shippers and producers are facing this year,” he said.  

Sobkowich estimates that half of Canada’s elevator locations are served by only CN, which then provides service to the ports at Vancouver and Prince Rupert. Because these grain elevators don’t have other transportation options available, it impacts the elevators’ ability to supply international customers and it lengthens the producers’ delivery times, he said. The disruption also can result in higher costs as a result of delays, lost sales and demurrage, and it has the potential to add to the carry-out of grain tonnage at the end of the crop year on July 31, 2020, he said.

“We are extremely sensitive to these extra costs, not only for our members but for grain producers and customers,” Sobkowich said.

Should the disruption continue, WGEA is urging the federal government to take action, including potentially reconvening the House of Commons prior to Dec. 5 to deal with the situation.

The Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC), whose members use rail exclusively to ship roughly 80% of their production, also pressed for federal intervention should the parties not come to a resolution.  

“Fully C$38 million worth of industrial chemical products rely on CN’s network to get to their destinations every single day and that the economic impact of the work stoppage is C$1 million per day per facility that is shut down,” said  Bob Masterson, President and CEO of CIAC. “Some of those goods are also essential to core public services such as water treatment. We urge both sides to consider the far-reaching and urgent economic implications the strike activity and work stoppage at CN is having on industry.”

The CIAC said interruptions to rail service can result in chemical plants running out of storage capacity while also incurring shortages for incoming raw materials. Although some plants might have access to CN’s competitor, Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP), the plants have been told that CP’s network isn’t in a position to take on extra capacity, the association said.

“CIAC believes that a negotiated solution is always the preferred outcome. Should negotiations fail, however, the Government of Canada must be prepared to act quickly and in the national interest to order the parties to return to work and the negotiating table,” CIAC said. 

The Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) also called for both parties to end the strike soon, saying that Canada’s forest products often originate in remote locations where there are limited transportation options. The disruption is also occurring amid an ongoing truck driver shortage, making it harder for forest products producers to secure competitive transportation costs, the group said.

 “While FPAC respects the collective bargaining process, and the right of workers to go on strike, we are concerned about the devastating economic impacts this dispute will have on our industry, which is already facing significant headwinds, not to mention the impacts on forestry families and communities,” said FPAC President and CEO Derek Nighbor. FPAC estimates that 10% of Canada’s rail volumes come from the forest products sector.

Meanwhile, Peter Xotta, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s vice president of planning and operations, said the disruption could threaten the ability to handle export and import volumes at the Port of Vancouver.

“Any disruption in rail service will be extremely detrimental to the Canadian intermodal supply chain and harm Canada’s ability to manage our international and domestic cargo shipments, which serve auto assembly lines, grain producers, and retailers among others,” Xotta said.

“Import containers will be particularly hard-hit, resulting in significant congestion in and around the port. The work stoppage will have immediate negative impacts to partners throughout the supply chain, the Canadian economy and the Port of Vancouver’s international reputation as a global trade hub,” he said.


  1. Noble1

    Railroad Workers United

    RWU Campaigns

    Stop Crew Fatigue

    One of the most – if not the most – pressing safety concerns of train and engine crews in North America is the whole question of chronic train crew fatigue. It has been an issue for decades. It has been scientifically shown that being subject to fatigue is very similar upon the brain and body as being under the influence of alcohol. And while the rail carriers have zero tolerance for the latter, when it comes to the former, they are mute on the subject. In fact, they do not even acknowledge the existence of fatigue at all!

    Those of us in the T&E craft – especially those on road freight pools and extra boards – know and understand the harsh reality – and the dangers – of chronic crew fatigue. It is unconscionable that the rail carriers sit idly by and do nothing to mitigate against fatigue. The unions are all too often complicit in this silence. It is high time we mount an all-out campaign to blow the whistle on fatigue. If the general population was aware of what we go through, the dangers that we present to ourselves and the communities we travel through, something would be done to put a stop to this insanity. ”


  2. Noble1

    Railroad Workers United

    Quote :

    RWU Fallen Rails Program

    Railroaders Killed in the Line of Duty

    Our brothers & sisters continue to be killed on the job and what we see from the railroads are continuous testing harassment and ineffective “blame the worker” safety programs.

    We must continue to build the rank-and-file solidarity that will empower us to take real action when it comes to on-the-job safety. Meanwhile, RWU will continue to honor every fallen brother or sister, regardless of craft or union.

    By no means can we guarantee that our list below is complete, but we will try to make it as complete as possible and it will remain a work in progress for quite some time. If you know of anyone that we missed on this list, please email the webmaster with the information. At the bottom of this page you will find some links to various railroad injury & fatality references. Thanks.

    Unfortunately, according to OSHA statistics, there are an average of 13 on-the-job fatalities in the entire U.S. workforce each day.  Over 4,800 workers were killed on-the-job in 2015.

    Although by law, we are entitled to a safe workplace and it is our employers’ responsibility to provide it, we are continuing to see less enforcement of the safety laws by the government agencies who are required to enforce those laws.  The current administration and Congress continues to strip enforcement capabilities by reducing the powers and budgets of those vital agencies. 

    Also, we continue to see the reluctance of corporate owned, national media to focus any light on workers’ fatalities and injuries and the glaring lack of enforcement of safety regulations. 

    As a part of our efforts to promote safety for all railroaders, we also want to help promote safe work sites for all workers.  In that effort we work to publicize ALL on-the-job fatalities.

    The blog, CONFINED SPACE, is a newsletter of workplace safety and labor issues.  We heartily recommend it.

    September 25, 2019 – Montgomery County VA – A 40 year old Norfolk Southern employee was killed in a tragic work accident while driving his NS fuel truck. Keith Whited was a member of BMWED Affiliated System Federation Local Lodge 571 and was a 10 year NS employee. According to a sheriff’s office Captain, an investigation showed that the Norfolk Southern truck over-corrected while trying to maintain control on the windy road and the truck crossed the center line and struck an oncoming SUV. Whited is survived by his wife and two stepsons.

    September 6, 2019 – Shreveport LA – A 36-year-old Union Pacific employee was killed while working as a conductor. Bruce “Andy” Dominique Jr. was reportedly walking beside his train when it collided with a semi-truck at a crossing and the truck wrapped around the front of the locomotive and pinned Dominique in the cab of the truck.  He was survived by his wife, father and brother.

    August 20, 2019 – Beaumont TX – A Union Pacific employee was killed when he was crushed between two rail cars during switching operations.  39 year-old Travis “Bowie” Andrepont of DeQuicy, LA,  had reportedly jumped from one cut of cars to prevent a tank car from rolling into the cars he was riding.  He had worked for the UPRR for 16 years. He was survived by his wife and three children.

    August 15, 2019 – Vaughn Ontario – A 27 year-old employee of the Canadian National Railroad was killed in a yard switching accident at the CN MacMillan Yard. Imraan Qamar died when a car derailed and overturned and trapped him underneath.

    May 17, 2019 – Pueblo CO – A 27-year-old, employee of Rocla Concrete, Joel Montoya, died when he was trapped between two rail cars while yard workers were reportedly moving train cars. Rocla is a supplier of pre-stressed concrete crossties and switch ties for the railroad industry. Montoya was married and the father of two. The unfortunate fatality is being investigated but is considered to be an accident.

    May 10, 2019 – Elmendorf TX – A CRU Rail Services employee was killed, and four others suffered thermal injures in the explosion of an oil tank car and the resulting flash fire.  Gary Garza was trapped inside and killed while in the process of cleaning residue inside the oil tanker. On May 13, Roger Noriega, 42, died at Brooke Army Medical Center from severe burns and a cable that had been impaled in his side as a result of the explosion.

    April 18, 2019 – Romulus NY – An employee of Andersons Rail Group was killed after being struck by a train.  Thomas J. Horn, 46 of Romulus, and another employee were moving rail cars at the former Seneca Army Depot when possibly fell and was struck.  The FRA and NTSB are investigating.

    April 12, 2019 – Wauhatchie TN – A 24 year, mechanical department, CSX employee was killed in a train accident in Chattanooga.  Allen Lowe, of Erwin TN, was struck and killed while working in the rail yard.  Lowe was a father of two, one of which is a son who will graduate from high school this year. The NTSB and FRA are investigating.

    April 2, 2019 – East Chicago IL – A seventeen-year employee of ArcelorMittal was killed at the Indiana Harbor steel mill when the locomotive he was operating struck a railcar on an adjacent track.  Edwin L. Fleming, 49 from Schererville IN, died at the scene.  Brother Fleming was a member of the United Steel Workers.

    February 7, 2019 – Baltimore MD – A Norfolk Southern (NS) conductor was killed while switching cars at the Bayview rail yard. Brother Keith Leon Gilmore was riding the rear of a cut of cars on a shove move when he was caught between the car and standing equipment on an adjacent track. The NTSB is investigating and issued a preliminary report.

    February 4, 2019 – Field BC, Canada – Three Canadian Pacific (CP) employees were killed when their train derailed and plunged off a bridge into icy water. Their 112 car grain train was parked on a steep downgrade with the air brakes applied when it began moving on its own.  The victims were 26-year-old trainee, Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer from Grand Prairie, Conductor Dylan Paradis and Locomotive Engineer Andrew Dockrell. All three brothers were remembered as by-the-book family men.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.