More than auto freight shifting to truck during strike

TORONTO, (Feb. 25, 2004) — While CN Rail continues to plug in management personnel in place of union workers to keep freight moving during a six-day strike, some shippers and receivers are incorporating their own contingency plans: use more trucks.

Yesterday, Today’s Trucking and other media reported claims by the Canadian Auto Workers union — which is representing 5,000 striking CN technicians, clerical staff, and intermodal yard workers — that some of the railway’s biggest customers are scrambling to shift more freight from train to truck as the labour conflict continues. The railway denied the claim, adding that management personnel the company is using in place of the workers is maintaining operations “at near normal.”

However, Reuters news agency quoted a spokeswoman at General Motors of Canada as saying the automaker is making “alternative arrangements” for incoming parts shipments and shipment of finished vehicles — an indication disruptions may be worse than CN would like to admit.

Ford may be looking to do the same. Earlier this week it sent about 1,500 workers home as a result of disruptions. Yesterday it sent about 3,700 workers at three Ontario plants home after some Ford CAW members supporting the strike declined to unload rail shipments. However, CN rightfully pointed out that was an issue with Ford workers, not CN.

While the CAW and at least one automaker say more automotive freight is being transported via highways, some truckers admit they’ve seen an increase in business transporting other goods instead.

“To be honest, in terms of our involvement with auto parts, we haven’t seen as dramatic an increase as we’ve seen with other freight that was on rail,” Brad Bebbington, director of operations for Challenger Motor Freight in Cambridge, Ont. told Today’s Trucking. Bebbington says many customers shipping general goods to the West via rail have increased buying truck services to the region since the strike began.

“Because of the rail issue, some of our customer base is requesting more trucks in order move more of their freight out west because they’re concerned they either won’t make delivery times or there’s issues with getting in and out of the terminal,” Bebbington said. “‘Our thought going into it was to take capacity from customers who are already with us shipping to other points, but now need us to help them out in shipping out west … But we’ve had a number of calls also from some people we haven’t dealt with before.”

Asked if those customers have indicated if the new arrangements would continue into longer contracts, Bebbington said: “No one is really talking about that, except to say that right out of the gate a lot of them are guaranteeing the volumes for at least the next two weeks.”

Meanwhile, for the first time since the strike began on Feb. 20, the CAW and rail officials have agreed to resume negotiations later today.

Last week, CAW members rejected tentative deals the union and CN agreed on back in January, and set a strike deadline after 36 hours in talks broke off with “no agreement in sight.” The workers had been offered a three-year deal with annual wage increases of three per cent. The main issues still involve salary, but also working conditions, and disciplinary procedures, the CAW said.

— with files from Reuters

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.