CN conductors on strike

Unionized conductors, trainpersons and yard workers at Canadian National Railway are on strike as of Tuesday morning.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), whose CTY arm represents about 3,000 unionized CN staff, announced late Monday its members would stop work at 12:01 a.m. ET Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, we were unable to reach a deal with CN,” the TCRC said late Monday on its website. “The company remains unwilling to address our members’ heath and safety issues.”

A work stoppage would bring CN’s operations to a halt but would not affect public transportation, the TCRC said Saturday.

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Federal Labour Minister Patty Hajdu, in a statement Tuesday morning after the strike began, said she and Transport Minister Marc Garneau were “monitoring the situation closely” and “urge both parties to continue their negotiations.”

At least two Prairie grain grower groups are already calling on Hajdu and Garneau to “be prepared to intervene” in the event of a strike.

Alberta’s wheat and barley grower commissions, in a joint statement Monday, warned that “even a disruption of a few days” in grain traffic “will cause a massive backlog and economic losses that are ultimately borne by farmers.”

CN, the commissions said, delivers up to 5,650 rail cars per week to Canadian elevators, representing over half a million tonnes of grain. “If those cars are not supplied, farmers can’t deliver and are not paid.”

“There are a lot of farmers who already have a significant amount of their income trapped under snow,” Alberta Wheat Commission chair Gary Stanford, who farms at Magrath, south of Lethbridge, said Monday.

“That means that for the grain we did manage to harvest, we won’t be paid at least until service resumes.”

The Canadian Propane Association on Monday also cautioned that its members have “dealt with wet weather during the fall drying crop seasons and challenging winters that have included backlogs throughout much of the country.”

Farmers in the U.S. Midwest, many of whom also rely on propane to fuel grain dryers and are also facing a cold, wet harvest season, were already facing supply bottlenecks this fall in the weeks before the CN strike began.

“While we are hopeful that this year will be manageable, we once again are facing challenging weather conditions during crop drying season, particularly in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba,” CPA board chair Dan Kelly said in a letter to Garneau dated Friday.

Further east, Grain Farmers of Ontario on Tuesday also pressed Garneau and Hajdu to “be more proactive in bringing this dispute to an end,” also citing Ontario growers’ reliance on propane to dry grain.

“We are still seeing the majority of corn in the fields and harvest is progressing incredibly slowly,” GFO chair Markus Haerle said in a separate release. “The corn being harvested is very wet and will require extensive drying to be viable, which requires the use of propane and our access is now cut off.”

The government, Haerle said, “must understand that we had already anticipated needing twice as much propane this year as a normal year.”

The option of federal back-to-work legislation — as sought by another farm group, the Western Canadian Wheat Growers, in a separate release Tuesday — wasn’t mentioned in Hajdu’s statement. Rather, she reiterated Tuesday, the government “supports and has faith in the collective bargaining process.”

The government, she said, “understands the importance of the rail industry and its workers to the Canadian economy. While we are concerned about the impact of a work stoppage on Canadians, we remain hopeful (the company and union) will reach an agreement.”

‘One hand’

The TCRC said Saturday wages were “not a major sticking point” in talks with CN, compared to working conditions.

“CN currently requires TCRC members to operate trains alone from outside of the locomotive, hanging on to moving trains with one hand while operating a remotely controlled locomotive with the other,” the union said. “Railroaders are expected to do this in rain and in freezing temperatures, sometimes for distances of up to about 17 miles.”

CN, the Teamsters said, “has refused to come to a satisfactory agreement at the negotiations table to adjust their operating practices in the interest of safety.”

CN, which recently announced significant layoffs in Canada and the U.S., “wants to make it more difficult to take time off and make employees work longer hours, in an attempt to get more work done with fewer people and to reduce staffing levels,” the union said.

The company is also seeking a lifetime cap on prescription drug coverage for union members and their families, the Teamsters said. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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