The federal government has urged Canadian National Railway Co. and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference to continue negotiating as the roughly 3,200 conductors, trainpersons and yard workers went on strike.
Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said Tuesday the government is concerned about the impact of a work stoppage on Canadians, but remains hopeful the two sides will reach an agreement.
The rail workers walked off the job after failing to reach a deal by a midnight deadline.
Union spokesperson Christopher Monette said they were still in talks with CN in hopes of reaching a negotiated settlement and ending the dispute as soon as possible.
The union has said passenger rail services in the country’s three biggest cities would not be affected by the strike.
It represents workers at commuter rail services including Go Transit in Toronto, Exo in Montreal and the West Coast Express in Vancouver, where passengers would remain unaffected.
The workers, who have been without a contract since July 23, say they’re concerned about long hours, fatigue and what they consider dangerous working conditions.
“We have members out there who are operating trains when they should in fact be resting,” Monette told CBC News after the strike began.
The dispute comes as CN confirmed Friday that it was cutting jobs across the railway as it deals with a weakening North American economy that has eroded demand.
“We are disappointed that the TCRC has initiated strike action which will result in a significant disruption to service,” Janet Drysdale, CN’s vice president of financial planning, said at the Scotiabank Transportation and Industrials Conference on Tuesday.
“We apologize to our customers, but we do appreciate their understanding that safety is always our first priority. Negotiations are expected to continue later today, under the watchful eye of federal mediators.”
CN currently handles more than half of all Canadian chemicals production. It is the only railway to service the three major petrochemical centres in North America, which includes the Alberta’s Heartland, the U.S. Gulf Coast and southwestern Ontario.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum producers said in a statement that they are concerned about the strike and “any developments that can negatively impact on the availability of rail capacity, particularly in light of the current shortage of available pipeline capacity relative to oil production in western Canada.”
The association said they will be monitoring the potential impact the strike will have on the industry’s competitiveness.
Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC) urged the Canadian government, CN, and Teamsters to work together to prevent serious damage the strike will have on the Canadian economy.
“Fully $38 million worth of industrial chemical products rely on CN’s network to get to their destinations every single day, and … the economic impact of the work stoppage is $1 million per day per facility that is shutdown,” Bob Masterson, chief executive officer of CIAC, said in a statement.
Mining said to be 52.3% of revenue
The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) also expressed “serious concern” regarding the strike and how it will affect the mining sector.
According to the association, the mining industry accounted for 52.3 per cent of rail freight revenue in 2018.
“In the minerals and metals sector, experience has demonstrated that a rail stoppage significantly impacts the ability of companies to bring essential inputs to their mines, and the ability to move mineral products and by-products to downstream customers,” said Pierre Gratton, chief executive of MAC.
“MAC members have advised that this strike will result in a severe reduction or elimination of railway capacity and will trigger the closure of mines with concurrent lay-offs of thousands of employees beginning in a matter of days.”