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Chemical firms hurt by CN strike

(The following story by Nicolas Van Praet appeared on The Montreal Gazette website on February 27.)

MONTREAL -- Operations of at least two chemical companies in eastern Canada are being disturbed by the continuing strike at Canadian National Railway Co., an official with the Canadian Chemical Producers' Association says.

The strike is now in its eighth day.

"Several chemical companies there are having trouble getting raw materials in to the point that whether they can continue operations is questionable," said David Goffin, vice-president of business and economics for the association.

Goffin named Canada Colours of Toronto, and PPG Canada, which is based in Beauharnois just southwest of Montreal, as two companies hit.

PPG production director Denis Faucher confirmed the company's daily deliveries of 500 tons of salt by CN are uncertain. PPG needs the salt to keep its 100-person-strong factory operating.

The company splits the salt, which comes from Ontario, to make chlorine, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda. It sells the products to the pulp-and-paper and food industries.

"We're at the point where we don't know one day to the next if we have to shut the plant down," Faucher said.

"We have little communication with CN's customer-service agents because the normal workers are on strike. And we don't know where our trains are."

Officials with Canada Colours could not be reached.

Asked about the chemical company problems, CN spokesperson Mark Hallman said the railway warned clients that delays were possible.

CN managers stepped in to do the work of 5,000 mechanics, cargo handlers, clerical workers and customer-service agents after the unionized workers went on strike last Friday. The workers, represented by the Canadian Auto Workers union, walked out after rejecting a new contract offer.

Reports by the chemical industry follow work stoppages this week at Ford Motor Co., whose Ontario workers refused to unload car parts in solidarity with the CAW workers. Those stoppages are now over and cars and parts are moving normally.

General Motors plants in Oshawa also resumed loading finished vehicles onto CN trains.

"That's a good story in terms of our service levels," Hallman said.

He acknowledged some CN clients have diverted shipments of container goods to trucks.

"But by and large, in terms of our merchandise business, we're holding our own. And we're doing our best to keep the trains going. Our network is fluid."

Meanwhile, another group of CN workers threatened to walk off the job as early as today.

Engineers at CN's Winnipeg terminal, represented by the Teamsters, said they could strike starting today. They said the CAW strike has made working conditions unsafe. CN denies that claim.

Federal mediators summoned CAW and CN negotiators for new talks in Montreal that took place yesterday. CAW union spokesperson Abe Rosner said "various discussions" were continuing. He gave no further details.

Friday, February 27, 2004

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