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Maple Leaf Motoring: How the CN strike played on the freight market

Canadian SONAR data show that trucks helped fill the void as rail capacity left the market – and then got a nice bump as it returned.

CN's Walker Yard in Edmonton, Alberta, was among many operations hit by the strike of more than 3,000 rail workers. Photo: Teamsters Canada

Maple Leaf Motoring is a weekly rundown of developments in the world of Canadian transportation. This week: how the CN strike played out on SONAR; transport continues to slump in GDP data; and Bison parties down in Winnipeg.

The end of the Canadian National (NYSE: CNI) strike couldn’t have come soon enough for Canada. 

Further disruption to the flow of goods – especially canola and wheat exports — could have been devastating to an economy whose growth is already slowing. But the eight-day disruption, which ended on Nov. 26, also showed how the freight market adjusted. 

The FreightWaves SONAR platform shows a fascinating story of trucking volumes slowly rising in tandem with the drop of outbound rail activity. 

As the volume of outbound rail containers dropped in Canada, the Outbound Tender Volume Index rose on FreightWaves’ SONAR platform, suggesting that trucks were handling additional freight hit by the CN rail strike.

After the strike was announced on Nov. 16, the Canadian Outbound Tender Volume Index crept upward as outbound loaded rail cars dropped, suggesting that trucks picked up some of the slack. 

When the strike ended on Nov. 26, the index surged again, likely a sign of intermodal operations moving again. In Toronto, where the disruption was especially bad at CN’s terminal, the Outbound Tender Volume Index jumped by 6.19% after the strike ended. 

While some carriers have actually gotten a nice bump from the strike and its end, a proactive disruption probably would have hurt everyone.  

Transport continues to fall in GDP numbers

As supply chains recover from the CN, the latest release of government GDP data shows continuing softening of the transport sector.

Canada’s C$87 billion transportation and warehousing industry fell by 0.9 percent in Statistics Canada’s monthly GDP figures, which measure economic output of individual sectors. It marked four consecutive months of declines. 

Brian Depratto, a senior economist at TD Bank, noted that the temporary shutdown of a mine was a major contributor, driving down rail activity. “That said, the story for most of the major categories (freight-related) does indeed look fairly weak of late,” Depratto said in an email to FreightWaves.

Trucking proved more stable – basically flat in September. Overall, the sector was down about 2% from a year earlier. 

Here’s hoping we get a stronger finish to the year.

Bison rocks the party in Winnipeg 

Even in these uncertain times in freight, Bison Transport threw what was clearly an awesome party in Winnipeg, bringing trucks into a hotel ballroom. 

The carrier’s annual awards dinner brought 750 members of the Bison family together. They recognized some truly remarkable drivers, including one with 3.5 million safe miles. It sounds even more impressive as 5.6 million kilometers. 

Naturally, poutine was on the menu. As the evening progressed, there was even some live-streamed team-dancing.

Well done, Bison.


  1. Noble1

    RE-QUOTE :

    “But the central lesson of Hoffa’s life remains relevant today: to build union power, leaders must be willing to confront employers, aggressively stand up for the material interests of members and stay close to the rank and file, as Hoffa did. It’s necessary to antagonize the economic elite, because ultimately the power of organized labor is grounded in the working class, not in friendly relations with authorities. In the era of teacher revolts, the Fight for $15, and “democratic socialist” politics, all unions should heed these lessons.”

    RE-QUOTE :

    “It’s necessary to antagonize the economic elite, because ultimately the power of organized labor is grounded in the working class, not in friendly relations with authorities.”

    I certainly understand the author’s point . However, in regards to ,Quote: not in friendly relations with authorities” , that’s where I beg to differ .

    One must certainly be nimble and grasp the mentality of their foe . People are certainly not perfect and to expect such would be highly unreasonable . Relations and or confrontations with whomever should always be from a friendly stance . That doesn’t mean that one should accept a foe’s unreasonable actions and or mentality , nor should one back down from attempting to correct their wrongs by outsmarting their unreasonable actions . It simply means a friendly manner is harder to resist . One can better position themselves to be understood if they understand . If your “foe” is greedy and ruthless , understanding this characteristic may better position one to negotiate in a way that will draw interest from their foe . They fear losing wealth , and their greedy desire is to increase it .

    Employers simply have a desire to increase their gains . And there’s more money to be obtained by simply understanding that by doing things a little differently it can increase profits and thus reduce costs tremendously . The “employee” is a great asset . People can be a great asset . People have minds with unlimited potential . An imagination is infinite . And from an imagination comes the birth of ideas . One simple idea can generate billions .

    If your “foe” is close minded then that’s where you need to address those who are being penalized by such a close minded mentality . In the case of public listed companies , you need to address the shareholders . The last thing you want to do is act in an unfriendly manner with “authority” and whomever . You want “authority” to be open to your ideas which will contribute to an increase in their desires . “Labourers ” are much more valuable than the simple labour extracted from them . This is what needs to be greatly understood . An incentive to draw forth the genius from a “labourer’s” mind to contribute to the bottom line would be ie: employee stock options . This sort of an incentive is a bonus that both parties can reap from .

    Reasonable shareholders would never want to jeopardize the safety of such a great asset . In the case of “Rail” , you never know , you may unfortunately “layoff” or endanger , and or negligently kill the next “Hunter Harrison” similar mindset but improved idea from which a multi billion dollar increase to your bottom line may come from .

    Employees/labourers are in the field 24/7 . They work at their job every single day for many hours . They see and know where improvements can be applied in a safe prosperous manner . It’s up to management to create the key that will unleash the infinite power from their asset’s mind and reap the benefits from doing so . However , typical management mentality hasn’t improved . It fights over pennies rather than focusing on generating major dollars . Rather than negatively taking advantage of employees , inspire them to be the very best they can be . “Discipline” can be used as an abusive tool . It’s not the best answer . The “carrot” is much more invigorating . Rather than the employer being the stick , instill it in the mind of the employee . Have the employee hold themselves to a higher standard . Have them associate pleasure to such a standard .

    I’m talking about changing employer and employee values and “neuro-associations” . The mind is a wonderful and extremely powerful tool if one understands how to tap into it too reap its infinite benefits . And “that” , is priceless . Rather than manipulate your opponent’s mind unethically , teach them to manipulate their own minds ethically to draw forth what they desire . Unfortunately the “elite” are applying this intelligence backwards . And by doing so they engender deception , unworthiness , hatred , jealousy , dishonor , retaliation , anger , and war etc .

    You can’t expect an “employer” to reap honor through abusive treatment towards those that contribute to their wealth , then turn around and exercise philanthropy . This would be viewed as extreme hypocrisy . Though that’s exactly how many of the elite behave . They’re only fooling themselves if they believe they’re fooling anyone else .

    Anyone in a position of power who takes advantage of another in order to remain in a position of power is nothing less than a fool . Virtue is of great importance . This is the most important element that lacks in business , politics , and religion .

    The day we replace unethical behavior with virtue , is the day we as a people can proudly say we have finally evolved as a species .

    In my humble opinion ………….

    I leave you on this last note : Even though his “philosophy” wasn’t without flaw , it was pretty close to being flawless .

    Socrates believed the best way for people to live was to focus on the pursuit of virtue rather than the pursuit, for instance, of material wealth. He always invited others to try to concentrate more on friendships and a sense of true community, for Socrates felt this was the best way for people to grow together as a populace. His actions lived up to this standard . “

  2. Noble1

    Quote: Friday, November 29, 2019

    Jimmy Hoffa helped create the American middle class. Unions today should learn from him.

    Jimmy Hoffa used to say he’d be forgotten 10 years after his death. This was an uncharacteristically unintelligent judgment. Forty-four years after his murder on July 30, 1975, Hoffa is still famous enough that one of the most celebrated movies of the year, “The Irishman,” which arrived on Netflix this week, is about the man who claims to have killed him, Frank Sheeran. For a labor leader, such a level of fame is not only extraordinary; it is unique.

    Of course, to many, Hoffa is notorious: a dictatorial and corrupt union boss who was close friends with gangsters and allied his union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, with the Mafia. There is certainly some truth to these charges. But it is worth remembering that Hoffa was much more than just a corrupt “dictator.” He was one of the most brilliant, effective and ambitious union leaders in American history, and he played a substantial role in creating the postwar middle class.

    “When the government came after him,” a member of the Teamsters said years afterward (as quoted by historian Thaddeus Russell), “a lot of us wanted to take our trucks and run ‘em over certain people… . Everyone I knew thought Hoffa was a great man.”

    Why was he so beloved? Hoffa was perceived as defiantly standing up for workers against a society that exploited them and would strip them of everything if it could. “The working man is being shortchanged every day in America,” Hoffa said regularly in interviews.

    On the charges of corruption and ties to the Mafia, he was unrepentant: “Twenty years ago [i.e., in 1939] the employers had all the hoodlums working for them as strikebreakers. Now we’ve got a few, and everybody’s screaming.” As Russell relates, teamsters saw him as a courageous truth-teller.

    But the main reason for Hoffa’s popularity was simply that he delivered for his members. More than anyone else, he was responsible for transforming the trucking industry from a decentralized, low-paying, terribly unsafe industry in the 1930s to a centralized, high-paying and relatively humane one in the 1960s. According to biographer Arthur Sloane, the contracts he negotiated were so generous that there were stories of professors at elite universities quitting their jobs to become truck drivers because they could double their pay.

    Hoffa’s success was due in part to the fact that, like the elites he battled, he didn’t play by the rules. If businessmen could bribe politicians and the Mafia could bribe police departments, why couldn’t a union leader in a hostile, competitive environment use the same tactics?

    By whatever means necessary, Hoffa would, and did, force employers to unionize their workforces, establish unusually generous health and pension funds, and in general treat their employees with some respect. In 1964 Hoffa even achieved the dream he had worked toward for 25 years: He negotiated a National Master Freight Agreement with employers across the country, a contract that secured virtually uniform wages for 450,000 drivers from coast to coast and north to south. At a time when most of the South had very low wages and was hardly unionized at all, this was an incredible – and unique – achievement.

    Hoffa did indeed break the law on many occasions. But the question remains, given the corruption and law-breaking by countless businessmen and powerful officials – including Hoffa nemesis Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who used illegal wiretaps and electronic bugs to bring down his enemy – why was Hoffa singled out?

    The answer is that organized labor itself was a target, and Hoffa was significant as the head of the largest, most powerful and most politically independent union. Since the IBT often supported Republicans, even Democrats were willing to go after it.

    In the 1950s, big business was conducting a colossal political, legal and public-relations campaign to beat back the left-liberalism spawned by the New Deal era. Historian Elizabeth Fones-Wolf argues in ” Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945-60 ” that there was a “unity of purpose within much of the business community on … the necessity of halting the advance of the welfare state and of undermining the legitimacy and power of organized labor.”

    What better way to accomplish this goal than to focus public attention on union corruption and ties to Mafia figures, as the McClellan Committee of 1957-59 did? It was immaterial that many politicians and “legitimate” businesses were no less connected to the Mafia.

    But the central lesson of Hoffa’s life remains relevant today: to build union power, leaders must be willing to confront employers, aggressively stand up for the material interests of members and stay close to the rank and file, as Hoffa did. It’s necessary to antagonize the economic elite, because ultimately the power of organized labor is grounded in the working class, not in friendly relations with authorities. In the era of teacher revolts, the Fight for $15, and “democratic socialist” politics, all unions should heed these lessons.
    – – –
    Chris Wright has a PhD in U.S. history from the University of Illinois at Chicago and is the author of “Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States.

    1. Noble1

      Update :

      I watched the movie “The Irishman”

      Without debating whether it’s a true story or not , however, based on the movie itself and what was reported through it, my conclusion is as follows .

      Hoffa created a union by the name of the Teamsters . The teamsters was based on labourers attempting to obtain just treatment for labour rendered . This “union” was based on a democracy among members .

      Now since we are currently entering the season of a religious belief deemed as CHRIST-mass(Christmas) , I would like to make a point concerning mind manipulation .

      Santa Clause has been created to manipulate children and generate sales . We use this concept during this time of year to manipulate the behavior of children, especially . We tend to abuse of their innocence and naivety in an attempt to influence their behavior . WE WRONG THEM .

      No matter how cute or whatever other belief you have in perpetrating this flaw , YOU choose to do it . As they age it will instill doubt in your credibility .

      Using myself as an example that is exactly what occurred . Authority became questionable due to its trickery .

      Back to Hoffa from the movie’s perspective . A union as earlier stated is based on democracy . Each member votes according to their choice or “influenced” choice . And the majority rules .

      Within the movie Hoffa was removed due to accusations that lead to his incarceration . Once relieved from his incarceration he wanted to regain control of HIS union the “Teamsters” .

      However, during his(Hoffa’s) absence and a third party(Organized Crime/OC) gaining more control over being served to their desire , they were satisfied with how things were being managed in regards to the union(Teamsters) .

      However, Hoffa wanted to apparently change such ways of doing things .

      Now here is a very important point . The third party(OC) didn’t want things that satisfied their desires to change . They(OC) decided through a unanimous vote democratically that Hoffa was not to regain presidency . They wanted things to remain the same .

      Hoffa , according to the movie, wouldn’t hear of it . He wanted to regain presidency of HIS union and wouldn’t back down from his desire and once in position would “right” the wrongs being committed according to his beliefs etc .

      Hoffa was warned . The third party had unanimously decided that he should retire and enjoy life .

      Now let’s step aside for a second and reason here .

      In the “Corporate” world if you don’t abide by their desires you’re fired . In the world of Organized Crime if you don’t abide by their desires you’re “eliminated” .

      Hoffa was being “asked” aka TOLD to step down and reorient his desires elsewhere by OC . He decided NOT TO ABIDE BY A DEMOCRATIC OC VOTE !!!!!!!!!!!!

      And he paid for that choice with his life . Now how ironic is that ? Mr. Democracy Union didn’t abide by a democratic vote !

      Now why did I mention Santa Clause ?

      Simply because if we as humans are so easily and vulnerable to manipulation how can we be deemed with a “reasonable” responsibility based on a flawless point of view and or good judgement to make a reasonable decision ? We all believed in Santa Clause . And even though we know it’s flawed and wrong we continue to manipulate children into believing in such . How can we expect them to make a rational decision based on such a bogus belief ?

      We can’t !

      Though you expect that you are treated as any different in adulthood ? With all the BS that you have been lead to believe by the powers that be , how can I possibly be lead to believe that you can possibly make a rational decision on important matters that have an effect on numerous lives , much less on one ?

      And that’s my response to your “democracy” hocus pocus belief(s) .

      That being said , when the “democratic” vote comes from OC , you would be wise to head the warning . If you do not ,well , you’re playing with “fire” and likely to get burnt .

      I apologize to admit that based on the numerous BS manipulative propaganda etc that CONvinces the general public , that currently the general public are not is a position deemed to render a rational judgement by way of a genuine democratic vote . YOU’RE MANIPULATED to think and choose a certain way just like you were as a child in regards to Santa Clause and what you CHOOSE to continue to do towards your own children based on your desires !

      Therefore based on my analysis and conclusion I must agree with Socrates in regards to “democracy”, at least for the time being until proven otherwise .

      In my humble opinion

Comments are closed.

Nate Tabak

Nate Tabak is a Toronto-based journalist and producer who covers cybersecurity and cross-border trucking and logistics for FreightWaves. He spent seven years reporting stories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a reporter, producer and editor based in Kosovo. He previously worked at newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Jose Mercury News. He graduated from UC Berkeley, where he studied the history of American policing. Contact Nate at [email protected]