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Carriers Gain Due To CN Strike

MONTREAL, Que. - The Canadian National (CN) Railway strike in March and what looked like yet another disaster for intermodal carriers turned into a cloud with a silver lining for some, when shippers started switching more cargo from trains to truc...


MONTREAL, Que. – The Canadian National (CN) Railway strike in March and what looked like yet another disaster for intermodal carriers turned into a cloud with a silver lining for some, when shippers started switching more cargo from trains to trucks.

“Initially there was a slowdown,” said Robert Volfson, president of Carmel Transport International Ltd., a carrier servicing the Brampton Intermodal Terminal.

“But then we started to see an increase in highway moves between Toronto and Montreal. Some steamship lines decided to truck their containers instead of sending them by rail.”

Indeed, Reuters news service reported Feb. 26 that due to a slowing of grain and auto shipments some customers turned to trucking companies.

Ford Motor Co. sent 3,700 workers home at three Ontario plants after some CAW members refused to unload rail shipments, according to the Reuters report.

But at the intermodal terminal in Brampton, the slowdown only occurred towards the beginning of the strike, said Volfson.

“On Friday (Feb. 27) there was a six-to-seven-hour wait, because of the picket line, but after that it was okay,” Volfson said.

CN quickly put a stop to slowdowns at its intermodal terminals by getting injunctions against pickets blocking traffic, said Mark Hallman, director of media relations for the railway.

“We got court orders at all the major terminals, as necessary,” said Hallman in late February. Terminals where picket lines came under court orders included those in or near Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Halifax, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

The strike was launched Feb. 20 by the Canadian Auto Workers union (which represents 5,000 shopcraft, clerical and intermodal yard employees) after workers rejected tentative agreements signed by CAW and CN Jan. 23, 2004.

Their existing contracts expired Dec. 31, 2003.

But negotiators were back at the bargaining table with the help of government mediators Fri., March 5, said Hallman.

“The bargaining committees for CAW and CN are scheduled to meet this afternoon,” Hallman said.

In the meantime, some shippers and freight forwarders said their regular carriers were refusing to cross the intermodal terminal picket lines.

“If this continues we are headed for a wonderful mess,” said George Kuhn, executive director of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association in late February.

“Our members say some carriers are refusing to cross the line.”

Steve Valentine, CIFFA director and president of Cargo Alliance Ltd., based in Mississauga, said he knew several truckers his company worked with who were refusing to cross the line.

“Our truckers won’t cross a picket line for fear of retribution after the strike is over,” Valentine said in late February.

He said finding other truckers to haul was difficult given increased demand and risk.

“We are calling other companies but it’s the same old story, the people who are willing to risk the environment are inundated.”

CN and CAW negotiators failed to reach an agreement prior to press time.


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