CN Rail strike forces layoffs, propane shortages in N.S.

Click to play video: 'Workers at Halifax Gypsum directly affected with temporary layoffs amidst CN Rail strike' Workers at Halifax Gypsum directly affected with temporary layoffs amidst CN Rail strike
Ripple effects being felt from CN rail strike across the Maritimes – Nov 22, 2019

As the CN Rail strike extends into its fourth day, the ripple effects continue to spread across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

From job layoffs to commodity shortages, both workers and consumers are feeling the pinch.

At the CN Halifax Intermodal Terminal workers continue strike action as part of the CN railway shutdown as some 3,200 union workers, including conductors and yard workers, have been on the picket lines since Tuesday.

Halifax union spokesman Mark Rushton was unable to speak to media because of a direction from union brass but says roughly 30 employees are off the job here.

READ MORE: Legault says Quebec has less than 5 days propane left due to CN strike, appeals to feds

The picketers temporarily blocked the entrance to the terminal port but were quick to let trucks through but it’s clear the strike is already impacting other businesses.

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On Friday morning, the National Gypsum mine company’s Halifax location notified workers temporary layoffs were coming.

“As a direct result of the CN strike, National Gypsum has notified approximately 30 associates at our Halifax quarry that circumstances have forced us to place them on temporary leave,” said spokesperson Beth Straten.

National Gypsum relies on CN train service to get its raw material to customers in Canada and the U.S., and as a result of the rail strike, they will look to increase truck transport in the meantime, saying it will limit their export capabilities.

Another commodity being impacted is propane imports, as the Maritime province imports the majority of its propane by rail from the west coast of Canada and the midwestern United States.

Ian Wilson, president of Wilson Fuels, says they are already feeling the effects of the strike and so will customers who rely on propane.

“A huge amount of the propane supply for this region comes via rail and CN Rail is the only rail line that comes into Nova Scotia and services much of New Brunswick as well,” said Wilson. “And without access to CN Rail, then propane supply can’t come in.”

READ MORE: National Gypsum could lay off 90 Halifax employees due to CN Rail strike

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Tens of thousands of customers are serviced with propane and rely on it to heat homes and run other appliances, which Wilson says is an essential service and a constant supply of propane coming into the region is relied upon.

As a necessary means, they’ll look to bring in more propane by truck but that will still limit the supply.

“There just aren’t the number of trucks to make up that supply and these trucks have to go a long way in order to get to the nearest supply point,” said Wilson. “So it’s a long supply chain.”

Wilson says the government has to take action, saying rail is an essential service, meanwhile negotiations between CN and the union members are ongoing.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs the decision to strike and the impact is already being felt, as supply chain interruptions are causing issues and leaving very few alternative options for fuel and agricultural products.

READ MORE: CN strike: Garneau urges negotiation while experts say no other choice until Parliament resumes

“Even if the strike is resolved quickly, we will continue to experience its effects in the days and weeks ahead in the form of increased gas and grocery prices, as well as in a significant backlog of goods,” said Higgs in a statement to the press. “I urge the federal government to take real action to encourage both sides to return to the negotiating table as soon as possible.”

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Atlantic Unifor spokesperson Shelley Amyotte says members of Unifor Council 4000 and Local 100 have received layoff notices over the past two months that add up to the reduction of just over 200 jobs.

Amyotte says the layoffs are directly related to the CN strike.

“What we have here is a massively profitable corporation causing anxiety through public layoff announcements that, if realized, could seriously threaten working conditions and health and safety of rail workers,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor national president, in a statement.

As for other fuels like furnace oil, James Farquhar, general manager with Scotia Fuels, says oil predominantly comes into the port by ship.

“We go and pick up our products from our suppliers by truck, it’s not an issue with us,” said Farquhar.

As calls for the federal government to intervene in the strike situation, Transportation Minister Marc Garneau told reporters Friday that he believes in the mediation and collective bargaining process and is hopeful a resolution can be negotiated.

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