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Chuck Taylor |
Published: Saturday, May 26, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Canadian rail strike stalls shipping in B.C.

A Teamsters strike that idled Canadian Pacific Railway's freight network in Canada is hindering shipments at the country's two biggest ports as the labor action stretched into its third day.

A logjam of slowed grain and coal shipments at Port Metro Vancouver, the largest, joins a pile-up of container shipments in Montreal, as idled freight lines constrict the supply chains of railroad customers. A potential weekly economic impact of C$540 million in a prolonged strike prompted the government to consider a bill halting it when Parliament returns next week.

"Movement of major export commodities out of Canada's largest port will become severely hampered in coming days due to the work stoppage," Peter Xotta, the Vancouver port's vice president of planning and operations, said in a statement Thursday. "Deprived of CP's rail services, the Port's major sulfur, coal, potash and grain terminals are losing volume."

The port, which handles about C$200 million ($194 million) of freight each day, estimates that about half is usually transported by Canadian Pacific. Much of the cargo that would normally be moved by the Calgary-based rail carrier is "finding other ways" including on rival Canadian National Railway Co.'s lines, said Marko Dekovic, a Port Metro Vancouver spokesman.

"Our terminal operators are managing pretty good in cooperation with shippers to not have much idling," Dekovic said. Mines and grain companies whose businesses are served solely by Canadian Pacific's network are affected the most, he said.

Canadian Pacific's operations in the northern United States are still running. The carrier serves 13 states as well as six Canadian provinces with its 14,800 miles of track, according to its website.

Vancouver port officials called for a quick end to the strike, and Labor Minister Lisa Raitt has said she would introduce back-to-work legislation, if needed, to protect the economy.

Members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents more than 4,000 of the Calgary-based railroad's workers, walked off their jobs when contract talks stalled over pension-plan cuts and work-hours rules.

Negotiations, which began in October, continued Friday,k said Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for Canadian Pacific.

"We feel this is a completely unnecessary strike," he said. "CP has successfully renewed over 100 collective agreements in the past 17 years in Canada and the U.S. This is the third Teamsters strike at Canadian Pacific since 2003, while none of the other unions representing our employees have struck."

Doug Finnson, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference vice president, didn't answer his cell phone or return a message left with the Teamsters office.

The strike complicates Canadian Pacific's operations as it seeks to reduce expenses and searches for a new chief executive officer after investor William Ackman's months-long proxy fight to replace former CEO Fred Green.

The union has resisted what it described as a 40 percent cut in post-retirement benefits, while Canadian Pacific said the pensions helped push its expense margins higher than those of its peers. The disparity was criticized by Ackman during the proxy campaign.
Story tags » RailroadShippingStrikeUnionsCanada

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