Canadian National Strike Strands Shippers, Ripples Through Supply Chains

November 25, 2019

Canadian National Railway (CN) is operating at roughly 10% capacity after nearly one week of a conductors’ and yard operators’ strike, stranding ag shippers and propane shipments at a crucial time for Canadian farmers. “Currently, very limited amounts of various commodities are moving across the country. This includes container traffic to keep Canada’s ports fluid to be able to return to normal operations after the strike,” the railroad said in a statement Friday. The 10% of CN’s capacity still operating is due to the railroad’s administrative employees that possess the needed qualifications.

As of Thursday, negotiations were ongoing “with the help of federally appointed mediators,” according to a statement from the railroad’s CEO JJ Ruest.

Dozens of farmers took their tractors to the streets of Montreal Friday in a rolling protest, calling for a resolution to the dispute, which the Teamsters Canadian Rail Conference says revolves around working conditions and prescription benefits. The workers have been without a contract since July 23.

The knock-on effects of any freight strike start with the goods rarely transported any other way. Propane — essential for heating and to the agricultural industry in Canada and the Midwestern U.S. — is one such product.

“Rail transportation is extremely important for the propane industry and for Canadians who depend on propane for their homes, businesses, farms and fleets every day,” Nathalie St-Pierre, CEO of the Canadian Propane Association, said in a statement. Much of Western Canada’s grain crops remain unharvested and propane is essential to keeping grain dry and barns warm in the colder months, along with transporting grain once harvested.

Authorities say Quebec is at risk of running out of propane if the strike doesn’t end soon. The teamsters contend that CN is inflating the level of disruption to the propane supply, according to Bloomberg. A total of 3,200 teamster members are striking, but the union says 1,800 locomotive engineers and 600 supervisors can cross picket lines, meaning they can still work. Lyndon Isaak, president of the union, told Bloomberg this should be enough to keep Quebec and Ontario supplied with propane.

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Source: Supply Chain Drive