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Apr 24, 2018

CN Rail CEO says it can't ‘pick up the slack’ if CP workers strike

CN Rail CEO: We won't be able to 'pick up the slack' if CP workers strike

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The CEO of Canadian National Railway Co. says the country’s largest railroad would not be able to pick up much of the slack if a labour dispute at rival Canadian Pacific Railway leads to a strike.

Jean-Jacques Ruest, interim president and CEO of CN Rail, spoke to BNN on the sidelines of its annual shareholder meeting in Toronto on Tuesday and said that  “booming” business stemming from western Canada has caught the company by surprise.

“Right now the capacity we have is by and large spoken for, so we wouldn’t be much of a factor to be able to pick up the slack if there was going to be a [CP Rail] labour disruption,” Ruest said.

“Having good labour relations is extremely key to [a] company keeping all its supply chains in check,” he added.

Ruest’s comments come after a strike by CP Rail workers was temporarily averted after the federal labour minister ordered employees to vote on the company’s final offers just hours before they were set to walk off the job last week. Union leaders, however, are warning that a rail strike is inevitable as they urge members to reject CP’s offer.

The threat of a strike also comes as the rail industry faces major capacity constraints amid growing demand to ship Western Canadian grain.

CRUDE BY RAIL

When asked if CN would be able to help the energy sector by shipping more crude oil by rail if crucial pipelines don’t get built, Ruest said that rail was not a substitute.

“We could be a complement to the pipeline industry to the extent that we have some capacity available. Our first focus is potash, grains, forest products, our regular business that can’t be put into a pipeline,” he said.

But Ruest said the company will likely have more capacity in the second half of 2019 to transport more crude by rail.

“In fact, we have signed contracts to do more crude by rail in the latter part of this year and early next year,” he said.

Ruest took over the top job as CN’s interim president and CEO last month after the company announced Luc Jobin’s departure.

Ruest said he was interested in staying on permanently as CEO, but he wanted the board of directors to make the best decision for the long term.