The week-long strike at Canadian National Railway Co. forced the shutdown of a potash mine in Saskatchewan as calls mount for the government to intervene to limit the economic damage of the stoppage on the country’s largest domestic freight railway.
Fertilizer producer Nutrien Ltd. will halt output at its potash mine in Rocanville, east of Regina, and lay off 550 of the mine’s 600 employees. The shutdown, which Nutrien said will last for two weeks beginning on Dec. 2, follows news of 70 strike-related layoffs at the Port of Halifax.
About 3,200 CN conductors and yard workers walked off the job on Nov. 19. Months of mediated talks failed to settle differences that Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), the workers’ union, says include safety concerns, benefits and rest periods. The strike has halted shipments of everything from wheat and canola to propane and retail goods, prompting fears of factory shutdowns, layoffs and lost exports.
Ottawa is facing mounting demands from industries and politicians to legislate an end to the strike.
Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the federal government believes in the negotiating process and is pushing both sides to come to an agreement. “Every option’s always on the table. But for the time being, we hope that both parties will get to an agreement,” she said in Regina.
Three Maritime senators – Diane Griffin, Stephen Greene and David Richards – issued a joint letter on Monday urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reconvene Parliament before the Dec. 5 return date to debate back-to-work legislation.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he repeated his call for the federal government to intervene in the strike, during a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland in Edmonton on Monday.
Quebec farmers protested at Mr. Trudeau’s Montreal constituency office on Monday, dumping bags of corn on the steps and calling for an end to the strike that has caused a shortage of the propane they use to dry their crops after harvest.
CN is running about 10 per cent of its typical traffic on its 22,000-kilometre domestic network with qualified managers working as conductors. Unionized engineers, who are also TCRC members but are covered under a separate collective agreement, are required to report for duty and drive trains.
The strike has caused CN to lay off a significant number of engineers, said Paul Boucher, a TCRC union leader who represents 350 locomotive engineers in Ontario and parts of Quebec. He could not provide an exact number.
“We are doing everything we can to move as much as we can given that we are in a strike,” Jonathan Abecassis, a CN spokesman, said in response to questions. “CN recognizes the impact this strike is having on customers and on the Canadian economy. CN understands that this labour dispute is affecting their operations and can result in forced shutdowns and layoffs.”
The two sides were talking on Monday but remain far apart on the key issues, said Christopher Monette, a spokesman for Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which has refused CN’s request to submit the dispute to a third-party arbitrator.
To underscore its push for better rules covering rest periods, the union released what it says is a recording of radio communications between a conductor in a train and a CN supervisor from October, 2018.
The supervisor repeatedly orders the conductor to drive the train, despite the worker’s declarations that he and the engineer have been working for 10 hours 20 minutes and are “exhausted.”
The union says the recording shows CN requiring a train crew to continue driving for several hours, despite the conductor’s declaring himself unfit and in need of rest. There is a 12-hour shift limit imposed by Transport Canada. The collective agreement at the time limited a shift to 10 hours.
CN suspended the unidentified conductor for 14 day without pay for refusing to operate the train, Mr. Monette said.
Mr. Abecassis did not answer questions about the recording and said the company is “looking into it.”
With reports from Bill Curry in Ottawa and The Canadian Press
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