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Team Alberta Crops Seek Provincial Support to Prevent the Potential CN, CPKC Rail Strike.

Alberta’s crop sector farmers are aware of the negotiations taking place between the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) and both the Canada National Railway (CN) and the Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) railways. Of concern is the announcement that close to 10,000 workers have voted to authorize strikes and unless the parties reach an agreement there could be a workstoppage as early as May 22, 2024. 

Any work stoppage presents a serious threat to the trade-dependent agricultural sector. Farmers depend on reliable and consistent rail service to receive critical crop inputs and deliver their grains to elevators and to ports for export to our many global customers. Farmers at this time of year schedule deliveries to move carryout stock off farm to make room for new crops and receive cash flow required for input procurement for the 2024 growing season. Last month CN shipped 2.77 million metric tonnes (MMT) of Western Canadian grain and processed grain products. A disruption of even a few days can cause systematic backlogs that have an ongoing impact on rail service that reverberates throughout the supply chain. An entire rail shutdown by both railways could create a national crisis.

Over 80 percent of our crop commodities are transported by rail to port for export. If contracted crops fall behind schedule and can’t be delivered and loaded onto vessels waiting at port, demurrage fees are incurred for each day that the ships wait and can range from $10,000 - $15,000 per day. While these feesare initially paid by grain handling companies, they are ultimately passed on to farmers. 

International markets demand reliability and predictability of the delivery of our commodities for in-market use. We have witnessed the devastating effects of rail service disruptions during the crisis in the 2012-13 harvest year. Not only did it have a crippling effect on farmers, but on the reputation of Canada as reliable supplier of commodities and this single event is still on the minds of our international buyers today. We are seeing challenges year after year, with actual or threatened labour disruptions that send concerning signals to our customers about our reliability as supplier and negatively impact our competitiveness in international markets. 

In recent labour disputes we have seen the federal government slow to intervene and facilitate a resolution before labour action occurs or to provide a more permanent mechanism that allowfor the continuation of service during the collective bargaining process. 

We know we can count on your ongoing support and advocacy for Alberta farmers and the agricultural sector, and we encourage you to reach out to your federal counterparts to urge them to proactively facilitate a resolution prior to a work stoppage occurring.

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