CN Rail strike and lack of trucking alternatives stoke forest industry fears

November 21, 2019

By: The Working Forest Staff

By Dan Healing, The Canadian Press 

CALGARY, THE CANADIAN PRESS — A chronic shortage of truck drivers across Canada is compounding concerns about the impact of a strike at Canadian National Railway Co., says the Forest Products Association of Canada.

“While FPAC respects the collective bargaining process, and the right of workers to go on strike, we are concerned about the devastating economic impacts this dispute will have on our industry, which is already facing significant headwinds, not to mention the impacts on forestry families and communities,” said CEO Derek Nighbor on Wednesday.

“Further compounding the severity of disruption is the ongoing truck driver shortage, which means additional costs, higher rates and an inability to ship products to customers.”

The forest industry supplies about 10 percent of the tonnage transported on Canada’s railway system, he said, adding his industry is already reeling from a downturn that has resulted in several mill shutdowns and hundreds of layoffs in British Columbia.

The Trucking Alliance of Canada estimated in 2016 that the industry, made up of some 300,000 drivers, will be short by 34,000 drivers by 2024.

The strike by roughly 3,200 Teamsters Canada Rail Conference members began after the union and the company failed to reach a deal by a Monday midnight deadline.

Conductors, train persons, and yard workers took to the picket lines Tuesday, halting freight trains across the country.

On Wednesday, Pulse Canada and the Canadian Special Crops Association called on the federal government to “do everything in its power” to end the strike to limit damage to the industry and the Canadian economy.

“Similar disruptions in the off-peak periods in the past have forced facility shutdowns and layoffs across our industry,” said Quinton Stewart, chair of the special crops group.

“We simply cannot afford to have half our rail capacity out of commission during peak shipping season — the government needs to act now to restore rail service and limit the impact on Canadian farmers, processors and exporters and their customers around the world.”

The call was echoed by the Canadian Propane Association which warned that timely delivery of supply is important to ensure critical activities fuelled by propane can continue.

The forest products association doesn’t have any specific recommendations, other than to encourage all parties to do their best to end the strike, said Joel Neuheimer, vice-president of transportation, in an interview.

That includes Parliament being reconvened before its Dec. 5 scheduled date, he said.

He said Canada’s forest industry has a “bad reputation” internationally for not being able to get products to market in a timely fashion and the strike won’t help that situation.

No forest product mills have been forced to shut down yet because of the strike but if they do, the association estimates the cost to each mill would be $150,000 to $500,000 per day.

 

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