CN strike triggers layoffs in Halifax as rail activity hits the brakes

MONTREAL — The ongoing CN strike has cost scores of Halifax rail workers their jobs — at least for now — as the labour stoppage continues to impact shipping across the country, the union representing the employees said Saturday.

More than 250 staff at Canadian National Railway Co.’s Autoport terminal, which handles cars shipped in and out of Canada, recently received layoff notices, but CN later rescinded the notices for 180 employees, according to Unifor.

The other 70 workers facing layoffs are expected to be temporarily out of work as of Nov. 28 unless the strike ends before then. The work stoppage by CN conductors, trainpersons and yardworkers has hampered rail shipments of cars at the facility, which sits across the harbour from Halifax.

About 3,200 CN staff across the country, who have been without a contract since July 23, walked off the job early Tuesday morning over worries about long hours, fatigue and what they consider dangerous working conditions.

The federal government has faced mounting pressure to resolve the strike as premiers and industry members voice concerns about profit losses and a propane shortage affecting Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes.

“The union remains in communication with the company to advocate for all members, and to negate the damaging effects of these unnecessary cuts,” Unifor said in a previous statement addressing layoffs at Autoport.

While the striking rail workers are part of the Teamsters union, the furloughs in Halifax affect Unifor members who are not on strike but who work at CN’s Halifax facility.

Workers at other CN facilities may also be vulnerable to temporary layoffs as the railway is operating at 10 per cent capacity, with most trains sitting idle in rail yards and stations.

CN declined to confirm the Autoport furloughs, but expressed disappointment with the ongoing strike and acknowledged impacts that are being felt beyond the picket lines.

“This has been affecting all of our operations, including at Autoport,” CN said in an email.

The Teamsters union said Saturday no substantial progress has been made as negotiations continue around the clock in Montreal under the watch of federal mediators.

The strike could cost the Canadian economyupwards of $3 billion if it continues until Dec. 5 — when Parliament is scheduled to resume — according to TD senior economist Brian DePratto.

Industries from farming to mining, forestry and fertilizer have urged Ottawa to take immediate action to resolve the dispute, with some echoing the Alberta government’s push to reconvene Parliament early and pass back-to-work legislation.

Others such as the National Farmers Union have called for further negotiation to address rail workers’ safety concerns.

With more than 90 per cent of grain moved by rail, the Teamsters’ work stoppage has triggered worries among grain elevator operators and farmers — who also use propane to dry grain and heat barns and greenhouses — about lost sales and contract penalties following a soggy harvest.

CN Rail has rejected the union’s claim that the strike concerns workplace health and safety, suggesting instead that it revolves around worker compensation. Salaries amount to an average of $114,000 a year for a train conductor, CN said.

The railway is calling on the union to enter into binding arbitration, with an arbitrator chosen by the parties or appointed by the federal government.

Last week CN confirmed job cuts as it deals with a weakening North American economy that has eroded demand for railroad transportation. A company source acknowledged 1,600 employees will be laid off from union and management positions.

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