Edmonton Sun: February 17, 2007
Various sectors suffer from service disruptions
Continuation of a weeklong strike by unionized CN Rail conductors and yard workers will have a devastating effect on Canada's third largest export industry, says the head of the country's chemical industry association.
"At a time when the manufacturing industry is hurting, we are seeing a dramatic impact on producers, customers, employees, consumers and communities that can be prevented by the government," Larry MacDonald, chairman of the Canadian Chemical Producers' Association, said in a news release yesterday.
MacDonald, who is also chief financial officer of Nova Chemicals Corp., a major petrochemicals exporter from Alberta and the border community of Sarnia, Ont., said many companies have slowed production because they have no means to ship their products to customers.
It's a message that has been repeated by several large CN customers, including the Canadian Wheat Board and Canfor Corp., Canada's largest softwood lumber producer and exporter.
The chemical association has written to Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn asking the federal government to intervene to restore full rail service.
NO BACK-TO- WORK
A spokesman for Blackburn said the minister can't intervene while a CN challenge to the legality of the strike is before the independent, quasi-judicial Canada Industrial Relations Board.
A hearing by the board is to reconvene Monday.
The government also has no plans to introduce backto- work legislation to end the strike.
Larry Masaro of National Silicates, a company that makes materials for detergent, pulp and paper, chemicals, oil and construction markets, said the strike is causing hardship for small and medium-sized companies that are not receiving raw materials by rail.
Dow Canada president Jeff Johnston said the strike is also affecting the customers of the industrial chemicals producer.
" This strike is already having a severe impact on our ability to ship products, which is affecting our customers across the value chain."
CN said 2,800 of its United Transportation Union workers have been on an illegal strike since last Saturday.
The strike began after negotiations in Montreal broke down.
It affects freight service nationally but not Via Rail or commuter rail traffic in Montreal and Toronto.
Chemical makers ask Canadian govt to end CN Rail strike
Reuters: Feb 16, 2007
WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Canadian chemical companies said on Friday they have cut production because of a strike at Canadian National Railway Co. and have asked the federal government to intervene.
More than 2,000 conductors and switch yard workers at CN, Canada's largest railway, walked off the job last Saturday in a contract dispute over a variety of issues, including wages and working conditions.
The Canadian Chemical Producers' Association said the strike is having a significant impact on chemical manufacturers, which rely on rail to receive raw materials and ship finished goods.
"A continued strike by CN workers will have a devastating effect on the industry," said Larry MacDonald, chief financial officer of Calgary, Alberta's Nova Chemical Corp.
Nova later issued a statement saying it had cut back production, and warned it would suffer a "significant" financial impact if the strike is protracted.
The C$29 billion ($25 billion) Canadian chemical industry is the country's third-largest exporter, the association said.
Canadian Pacific Railway and the trucking industry are both running at capacity, the association said, leaving chemical shippers with few options.
Shell Chemicals Canada Ltd. said in a letter to Canada's labor minister that it has already experienced vessel loading delays at the Pacific port of Vancouver because of the strike.
Canadian National has been using managers to try to keep trains running, but grain, lumber and automotive shippers have complained of slowdowns.
Agrium Inc., Canada's No. 2 fertilizer producer, saw a shortfall in rail cars this week, although it is not yet the peak shipping season for the company, said Richard Downey, a spokesman.
A lengthy strike could affect fertilizer supplies for U.S. and Canadian farmers hoping to boost production in the face of skyrocketing grain prices, Downey said.
"There's already a concern that there's not going to be enough fertilizer to go around this spring," he said.
Agrium is the top U.S. crop supply retailer.
The strike has not affected Agrium's production, Downey said, although it may have to rein in potash and ammonia production if the strike lasted for several weeks, he said.
"From our perspective, it can't drag on for very long, because it is going to impact delivery as we head toward the spring season," Downey said.
A spokesman for Potash Corp. (POT.TO: Quote, Profile , Research), the world's top fertilizer producer by market value, declined comment on how the strike was affecting its operations.
"We're monitoring it, we're in constant communication with CN, and we're attempting to ensure that our product is being moved," Tim Herrod said.
Canadian Pacific Railway declared force majeure on shipments to some terminals at the Pacific port of Vancouver because of congestion caused by the strike, shippers said on Friday.
Some of the affected terminals handle potash, bulk fertilizers, and inbound phosphate rock.
CN Rail strike angers shippers as union squabbles
Reuters: Feb 16, 2007
By Allan Dowd
VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Angry shippers demanded on Friday an end to a strike at Canadian National Railway Co., while infighting among union leaders grew increasingly bitter.
Ford Motor Co. blamed the strike by about 2,300 CN conductors and switching crews for its shutdown of an Ontario assembly plant on Friday, and Canadian chemical makers complained of forced production cuts and urged the federal government to intervene to end the strike.
Lumber producers have also been hurt by the strike at Canada's largest railway, which started on Saturday, as have grain companies, which have also asked that it be brought to a quick conclusion.
The governor of the state of Maine, John Baldacci, has also urged Canada to resolve the dispute, saying the strike was contributing to a shortage of propane in his northern New England state.
CN has used management crews to replace the strikers, but service has been slowed both by the strike and tough weather conditions in Central Canada. Extreme cold temperatures hamper air-brake systems and force railroads to run shorter trains.
No negotiations are scheduled between CN and the United Transportation Union. The sides are currently at odds over the length of a "cooling off" period during which the union would agree not to strike if contract talks resume.
The contract dispute centers on both wages and work conditions. The previous contract expired at the end of 2006.
But the rhetoric between the railway and the UTU was tame compared to a battle between the union's Canadian leaders and the union's international leaders in the United States, which had opposed the strike.
UTU International President Paul Thompson has accused the union's Canadian general chairman, Rex Beatty, of using the strike to split the organization and have the Canadian locals join the rival Teamsters union.
Beatty and other Canadian union officers have placed UTU's 2,800 members at CN "in harm's way" Thompson said in a letter that also questions how Beatty has accounted for funds received from CN.
Beatty rejected the allegation, and has threatened to sue Thompson.
"The actions of President Thompson are deplorable to say the least. An obvious act of desperation, given what has occurred re: CN negotiations/strike," he said in a statement posted on the UTU's Canadian Web site.
A Canadian National spokesman said the internal union battle was a "distraction" and that the company's focus was on attempting to restart negotiations.
Montreal-based CN said there was nothing improper in the payments to the UTU, which were part of the 2002 contract settlement.
But the company said the allegations that the strike was part of a union raid cast doubt on whether the union's Canadian negotiators were sincere in wanting to settle the dispute quickly.
The Teamsters and United Transportation Union have long been rivals in the North American labor movement. Both represent workers within the railway industry and they have clashed over some transportation issues.
A unit of the Teamsters represents locomotive engineers at Canadian National.
The union infighting will also be the focus of a hearing on Monday of a Canada Industrial Relations Board. CN wants the board to declare the strike illegal because it was not legally authorized by the UTU's international headquarters.
Canada's second largest railway, Canadian Pacific Railway said the strike was not causing it major problems yet, although it had slowed interchange traffic and forced CP to declare a force majeure on shipments to some terminals at Vancouver's port.
"We're watching it very closely," CP spokesman Ed Greenberg said.
The strike does not involve CN's operations in the United States, in northern Quebec or on its Algoma Central and Mackenzie Northern Railway subsidiaries.
(With reporting by Roberta Rampton in Winnipeg and Frank Pingue in Toronto)
CP Rail declares force majeure at Vancouver port
Reuters: February 16, 2007
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canadian Pacific Railway declared a force majeure on shipments to some terminals at the Pacific port of Vancouver because of the Canadian National Railway Co. strike, officials said on Friday.
Canadian Pacific said the facilities were on the north shore of Vancouver's Burrard Inlet where Canadian National handles train switching operations under a co-production agreement between the two railways.
The strike by Canadian National's conductors and switch yard employees that began on February 10 has meant their work was now being done by management personnel, and a CN spokesman said additional people have now been assigned to the area to deal with delays.
A Canadian Pacific spokesman said the strike was also slowing interchange traffic between Canada's largest railways at some other points in the country, but that overall it was not yet causing major problems for CP's operations
"It's something that we are watching very closely, as you can appreciate," said CP spokesman Ed Greenberg.
The problems with shipments to and from the north shore of Vancouver's Burrard Inlet were beyond CP Rail's control, it said in a memo sent to shippers declaring force majeure on contracts starting on February 14.
"Interchange traffic and co-production with CN on the north shore is not moving smoothly and has been experiencing congestion related to events beyond CPR's reasonable control, including the strike by conductors employed by the CN," the memo said.
The terminals at Vancouver's north shore handle grain, chemicals, wood products and fertilizers. Owners include the Canadian division of Dow Chemical Co. as well as Saskatchewan Wheat Pool , Canada's No. 2 grain shipper.
CP did not identify what products were affected.
Greenberg said Canadian Pacific has not been trying to take advantage of its larger rival's woes by soliciting traffic because of the strike. "Our focus has been on serving our existing customers," he said.
The strike has not disrupted other areas of the railways's track networks where CN and CP have co-production agreements, such as through British Columbia's Fraser Canyon where they sue each other's main line tracks, Greenberg said.
Rail Strike "Devastating" To Chemical Industry
All Headline News: February 16, 2007
Toronto, ON (AHN) - The rail conductors' strike which begun this week was initially slated by CN Rail to have "little impact" on operations of the national company but has been outed as devastating Canada's chemical industry by their reduced scheduling.
The Canadian Chemical Producers' Association (CCPA) has asked the government to intervene in the strike or risk a massive economic downturn in the first quarter of 2007.
"A continued strike by CN workers will have a devastating effect on the industry," said Larry MacDonald, chairman of CCPA.
"At a time when the manufacturing industry is hurting, we are seeing a dramatic impact on producers, customers, employees, consumers and communities that can be prevented by the government."
Chemicals are Canada's third largest export and are a $29 billion business.
The strike is the keeping chemicals in the country with the reduced rail service affecting chemical suppliers and their distribution methods as well - possibly creating a trade deficit.
"Many companies have slowed down production as they have no means to ship their products to their customers ... We have to cut back on production because we are not receiving our raw materials by rail," MacDonald explained.
"We have to use trucks to replace trains for the shipping of chemical products," he added.
Negotiations between CN and the United Transporters Union began on February 5 and culminated in a strike on February 10 over pay and benefits.
CN has since called the action "illegal" but has been unsuccessful at getting the conductors back to work.
Only about 100 CN conductors employed on GO Trains between Toronto and its suburbs remained at work as of Friday, after signing a collective agreement to remain at work for the time being.
The CN conductors at GO are responsible for getting 142,000 people to and from work each day, giving a strike the potential to trigger a major economic meltdown in Toronto.
Ford Canada sole automaker hit by CN Rail strike
Reuters: Feb 16, 2007
By Frank Pingue
TORONTO - Ford Motor Co. of Canada said on Friday it has shut down its assembly plant at St. Thomas, Ontario, because of a strike by freight train workers at Canadian National Railway Co.
Both General Motors of Canada and DaimlerChrysler Canada said they have yet to feel any impact from the strike. Calls to Honda Canada Inc. and Toyota Canada Inc. were not returned.
Ford's plant, which assembles the Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis models, normally operates two eight-hour shifts a day during the week.
"It's down today," said Lauren More, a spokeswoman for Ford Canada. "It's because of a material shortage due to the rail strike, so we are looking for alternatives in terms of trucking."
More said she could not predict when employees would be able to resume work given uncertainty about when the rail strike will end.
The plant in St. Thomas, which has about 2,578 employees, opened in 1967 and has been assembling the Crown Victoria and the Grand Marquis since 1984. It builds about 1,000 vehicles a day.
More than 2,000 Canadian conductors and switch yard workers at CN Rail, Canada's largest railway, walked off the job last Saturday in a contract dispute over a variety of issues including wages and working conditions.
DaimlerChrysler Canada said the rail strike has not had any impact on production at any of its facilities but it continues to monitor the situation closely.
"We have not had any affect," Ed Saenz, a spokesman for the automaker said. "I can't comment into the future...but we've not experienced anything yet."
GM Canada, the country's biggest automaker, said it has not experienced any impact from the rail strike.
"As far as I know we have not been impacted at this stage," said Patty Faith, a spokeswoman with GM Canada. "We are not anticipating anything at this stage, but we will keep an eye on it absolutely."