The Canadian government renewed pressure on Canadian National (NYSE: CNI) and its striking rail workers to reach an agreement, saying a deal offered the fastest way to end an increasingly costly disruption to the country’s supply chain – and economy.
“It is something that is having a considerable impact on Canadians,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau told reporters Nov. 22. “CN is a major supplier of products across the entire country. So we want to resolve this as quickly as possible.”
Garneau made the comments in Quebec, where the reduced flow of trains has left the province with dangerously low supplies of propane, a vital source of heating for many.
Despite calls to bring Parliament into session early to force an end to the strike, Garneau said federally mediated talks between CN and the Teamster Rail Conference represented the “fastest way to resolve this.”
Nearly four days into the strike by conductors, trainpersons and yard workers, the ripple through Canada’s supply chain has intensified across the country as pressure mounted on the federal government to end the strike through mediation or legislation.
“Brutal” freight conditions in Toronto, trucking executive says
Beyond Quebec, the reduced movement of CN freight hurt oil-by-rail shipments in Alberta — itself a temporary measure. For trucking, the strike threw a curveball at a freight market contending with excess capacity and softer volumes of freight.
“Toronto is brutal,” Corey Darbyson, director of Transport Dsquare, a small Quebec-based carrier, wrote in a text message to FreightWaves on Nov. 21.
At CN’s Toronto-area terminal in Brampton, Ontario, trucks contended with picket lines to access curtailed intermodal operations.
CN has remained tight-lipped about its operations during the strike. But Garneau told reporters that CN management indicated that its network was operating at about 10% capacity, with managers filling in for the striking conductors.
At the Port of Halifax, linked to CN’s network through on-dock access, car shipper AutoPort abruptly issued layoff notices to employees, according to the union Unifor.
Experts: Strike could shave C$3.1 billion from Canada’s economy
As the fallout intensifies, the pressure will mount on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reconvene Parliament early to legislate the CN workers back on the job. If the strike lasts until the next parliamentary session on Dec. 5, TD economists Brian DePratto and Derek Burleton projected the Canadian economy could lose C$3.1 billion.
For now, CN and officials from the Teamster Rail Conference, the union representing the conductors, trainpersons and yard workers, remain in federally mediated contract talks. Working conditions and benefits appear to be sticking points, with the Teamsters demanding remedies for what they consider unsafe working conditions.
CN has been quiet since the strike began, but CEO JJ Ruest issued a statement Nov. 21 proposing that the two sides enter into binding arbitration.
Ruest suggested that CN had made proposals to alleviate safety concerns.
“Safety is a core value at CN. Although the union has claimed that the strike was about safety, those statements do not reflect our discussions,” Ruest said. “For the safety concerns raised, we have proposed viable solutions because we want all employees to go home safely at the end of their shift.”
The Teamsters said, however, that binding arbitration was a nonstarter. Spokesperson Christopher Monette said the union was sympathetic to fears over the effects of the strike on Canada’s supply chain and economy.
“We understand the economic issues,” Monette said. “Ultimately we don’t think anyone should die trying to transport propane.”
FreightWaves staff writer Joanna Marsh contributed to this story.