A strike by 3,200 Canadian National Railway Co. train conductors and yard workers has closed Canada’s largest rail freight network, triggering fears about the impact on farmers, mining companies and other pillars of the economy.
The CN employees, represented by Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, walked off the job at just past midnight on Tuesday after several months of mediated talks. Negotiations to replace an agreement that expired in July were scheduled to continue on Tuesday at a downtown Montreal hotel, said Christopher Monette, a spokesman for the Teamsters.
CN had already been winding down operations to avoid leaving loaded trains in storage or on tracks. The railway stopped picking up some hazardous goods and interchange cars from other railways in recent days. CN said in an internal memo that qualified managers will operate some trains, focusing on container shipments.
However, the grain companies, farmers, chemical makers, miners and retailers that rely on CN to get their goods to and from market have no real alternatives. Many are captive to CN, given their locations, and trucks are too small. The Alberta government urged the federal government to enact back-to-work legislation immediately.
In a statement, Alberta Minister of Energy Sonya Savage said any disruption in oil shipments would “have serious consequences for an economy that is already dealing with severe bottlenecks owing to cancelled and delayed pipelines. Alberta cannot see further restrictions on our ability to export our product.”