CN issues layoff notices to 85 Nova Scotia autoport workers
The layoffs take effect on Saturday
Dozens of people who work at the CN Rail Autoport in Eastern Passage, N.S., are facing imminent layoffs because of Indigenous protests that have halted rail service into the Maritimes.
On the weekend, CN issued 85 temporary layoff notices to unionized workers at Autoport, a major North American gateway for imported vehicles.
The layoffs go into effect on Saturday.
"Unifor is concerned with the impact that our members in Halifax have felt," said Unifor national representative Bruce Snow. "We are going to mitigate the layoffs to the best of our ability."
Each year, 185,000 vehicles are landed and loaded onto rail cars for transport inland.
The union expects the company to quickly rescind the layoffs when there is a resolution to the protests, which are a show of solidarity for the hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation, who oppose the construction of a 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline through northern British Columbia.
Besides the Autoport layoffs, 10 other Unifor members laid off in Halifax, three at a CN intermodal centre and seven at the VIA passenger train service.
Seven CN employees represented by Unifor in Moncton also received layoff notices.
Impact on Port of Halifax
Across Halifax harbour, the city's two container terminals remain open and no vessel calls have been cancelled, but the rail service shutdown is costing longshoremen jobs and pay, said International Longshoremen's Association local 269 president Kevin Piper.
"We're slowly grinding to a halt. The vessels are still coming, but the numbers are down. The moves are down significantly from what they normally would be," Piper said.
Given the long advance time needed to plan and load container ships calling on Halifax, it's unlikely any shipping line would immediately cancel Halifax as a destination, he said.
But the longer the dispute paralyzes the rail system, the worse it is for Halifax.
"Many other ports on the Eastern Seaboard would love these shipping lines business and they would gobble it up as quickly as they possibly could," Piper said.
He's frustrated by the continuing blockades.
"When small groups — and I say small within the big picture of the Canadian population — can hold the rest of the country hostage or ransom for their individual grievances, it creates a huge problem," Piper said.
"I think it should have been dealt with. I understand that the prime minister wants to settle this through negotiations, but you know, it doesn't seem to be happening."
Finding alternate transportation methods
The halting of rail service has forced businesses that rely on rail to find road transport, including the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation.
Much of its supply of domestic hard liquor arrives by rail from Central Canada.
Spokesperson Jennifer Gray said the corporation is trying to secure trucks to deliver spirits into the province.
"We're in the queue like everybody else," she said.
The impact for now is minimal because several weeks supply is on hand.
Trucking more expensive than rail
Dalhousie University food economist Sylvain Charlebois said truck delivery can be up to 50 per cent more expensive than rail.
"I don't think the Maritimes will run out of food. The question is how much will it cost?" said Charlebois.
"As soon as you put cargo on wheels, it will cost more and grocers will be patient and will absorb some of that cost, but [only] for so long. After 10, 15 days they're going to have to get more money somehow to cover these extra costs and that may come from consumers."