SASKATOON -- Three-thousand striking CN employees across Canada hit the picket line Monday night after the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) and CN Rail failed to reach a new deal.

Tuesday morning in Saskatoon, picketers set up roadblocks at all three entrances around the yard, each with around a dozen workers slowing traffic. Trucks were allowed into the yard one at a time, once every five minutes.

Joshua Baumgardner, the local union president in Saskatoon said CN workers aren’t striking for higher wages.

“They want to change how we work, specifically longer hours for our conductors, trainmen and yardmen,” Baumgardner said.

“As a result of an idea of us moving forward with less rest and more duties and more work – it’s a safety issue that’s what this really comes down too.”

Benefits are also a sticking point, according to Baumgardner.

“They’re trying to place lifetime benefit caps on prescription drugs and other parts of our benefits as well in an effort to save money on the back of a $3.9 billion quarter just recently reported.”

We are disappointed that the TCRC has initiated strike action which will result in a significant disruption to service," Janet Drysdale, CN's vice president of financial planning, said at the Scotiabank Transportation and Industrials Conference in Toronto on Tuesday.

"We apologize to our customers, but we do appreciate their understanding that safety is always our first priority. Negotiations are expected to continue later today, under the watchful eye of federal mediators

'Empty shelves'

Dallas Beal, who manages Saskatoon-based Ghost Transportation Services tells CTV News said impact of the strike will depend largely on its duration.

“This might be the year that if you didn’t do your Christmas shopping early enough you might be in trouble,” Beal said.

“There is a lot of that stuff already here and on store shelves but if there was any backlog or people waiting for certain shipments, you’re going to see some empty shelves if this continues on for a long time.”

Beal said in the short term, some companies may hit the panic button and hire more trucks to get products to market. With an increased demand for freight, Beal suspects rates will jump and companies may pass those costs onto retail customers.

“Stuff that’s trying to get onto store shelves will definitely be affected,” Beal said.

If and when the strike ends, Beal said it may take some time to unclog the backlog created at the ports. With ships bringing goods to B.C., there’s only so much space for shipping containers on the coast.

Beal said ships may be held off shore until there is room to unload, or shipments may not be sent at all.

“There will be capacity issues.”

With files from CTV News Saskatoon's Janella Hamilton. 

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated comments made by Beal. CTV News regrets the error.