Port reports millions in losses as feds prepare for back-to-work legislation for striking CN workers

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OTTAWA, Ont. — As a result of the CN and United Transportation Union (UTU) dispute, the Port of Vancouver estimates cargo volumes are down by 50%.

During the first 10 days of the strike involving the withdrawal of services by 2,800 conductors and yard-service employees in Canada an estimated $730 million in cargo has been held up and the situation is deteriorating, reported the port officials.

“Our customers’ lost sales cant be made up, as the transportation network is fully booked for months ahead,” said Captain Gordon Houston, president and CEO of the Vancouver Port Authority (VPA).

The labour dispute is compounded by severe winter weather conditions across the transportation network, with port customers and terminals reporting significant reductions in service levels.

Houston emphasized that port operations are being seriously impacted by the work stoppage.

“Ensuring the reliability of this gateway is of paramount concern to all port stakeholders. We are encouraged by Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburns appointment of a mediator and his urging that the parties end the dispute within hours, not days. The port supports the government in pursuing whatever course of action is required to bring this dispute to an immediate conclusion,” said Houston.

Striking workers rejected a request to return to work voluntarily by CN with a 60-day cooling-off period before negotiations would resume. Rather, the union insists it would like to reach a satisfactory agreement it can take to its members.

Due to the disruption in a number of industries which rely on rail service, the labour minister has revealed he will soon table a law ordering the employees back to their jobs.

A back-to-work legislation has been issued by the federal government in the past, including six times in the rail industry, the last coming in 1995.

Blackburns announcement came shortly after appointing a mediator to talk to both sides, but 12 days into the labour dispute and a number of industries have felt a pinch in production output.

The labour disruption has been blamed for a plant closure in Ontario, and reduced production by foresters, chemical and plastic manufacturers, and automakers. The inability to clear a backlog of container traffic at B.C.s ports has been hampered by the strike and left a number of grain vessels out to sea.

The Canadian Wheat Board reported it is paying US$300,000 a day to keep ships waiting for grain at anchor off the West Coast, which will end up costing our countrys farmers.

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