The federal government urged Canadian National Railway Co. and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) to continue negotiating as roughly 3,200 conductors, trainpersons and yard workers went on strike.
In Smithers, 137 union members are affected by the action. TCRC Division 111 (Smithers) president Aaron Lau said those members are prepared for battle.
“We’re willing fight for a fair contract, that’s for sure,” he said. “We’ve been without a decent contract for a while and it’s time to make some inroads.”
He added they feel like there’s quite a bit of support from the general public.
“We just went on strike last night at 9-o’clock; it was a dark and foggy night, but there were sure lots of horns honking as they drove by.”
Federal Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said the government is concerned about the impact of a work stoppage on Canadians, but remains hopeful the two sides will reach an agreement.
The rail workers began their strike after failing to reach a deal by a midnight deadline.
Union spokesman Christopher Monette said they are still in talks with CN in hope of reaching a negotiated settlement and ending the labour dispute as soon as possible.
The union has said passenger rail services in the country’s three biggest cities would not be affected by the strike.
The workers, who have been without a contract since July 23, say they’re concerned about long hours, fatigue and what they consider dangerous working conditions.
Lau said the local impact goes beyond the hardship to union members of not having a paycheque and the associated uncertainty.
“These are well-paying jobs that bring a lot of money into the community,” he said. “This work stoppage affects a lot of local customers like PIR and stuff like that. People are welcome to come down and support us.”
The dispute comes as CN confirmed last week it was cutting jobs across the railway as it deals with a weakening North American economy that has eroded demand.
Files from Thom Barker