Manufacturers, farmers edgy as CP strike deadline nears

by Amanda Stephenson THE CANADIAN PRESS

Customers of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. are growing increasingly concerned about a labour dispute that the union has said could result in a potential rail strike as early as this week.

Earlier this month, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference reported the results of a strike vote by Canadian Pacific employees.

According to the union, more than 96 percent of members voted in favour of a work stoppage at the Calgary-based railway. While neither CP nor the Teamsters provided an update on the status of talks Monday, the union had previously indicated a strike could begin immediately after midnight on March 16.

The union has said wages, benefits and pensions are the main issues behind the potential job action.

Another costly interruption

But shippers who rely on rail transport say a strike, if it happens, would come at a time when many industries are already dealing with supply chain disruptions and related fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dennis Darby, president of the trade association Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said a recent survey of industry members showed 90 percent have experienced problems with the supply chain over the last 12 months.

He said Canadian manufacturers have already lost out on an estimated $10.5 billion in sales because of transportation network disruptions and simply cannot afford another interruption.

“This latest potential disruption is just the latest example of the headwinds the sector has faced,” Darby said. “We just don’t need another reason for delays.”

Crippling delays for farmers

Fertilizer Canada – which represents manufacturers, wholesale and retail distributors of fertilizers – warned that a rail strike could result in fertilizer production facilities being forced to shut-in production, a situation that would be “crippling” during farmers’ crucial spring seeding season.

“The agriculture sector is already experiencing supply challenges compounded by the war in Ukraine and cannot withstand any more disruption to the supply chain,” said Fertilizer Canada president and chief executive Karen Proud in a news release.

Seventy-five percent of the fertilizer used by Canadian farmers is shipped by rail, Proud added, and there is no other transportation method that currently has capacity or can be brought online in time to mitigate the impact of a strike.

Cattle producers also warned of the potential devastating impacts of a CP Rail work stoppage. Last summer’s extreme drought has resulted in a widespread shortage of cattle feed in Western Canada, and many producers have been relying on CP Rail for shipments of corn from the U.S. to feed their animals.

“The majority of our members have said they have just one, maybe two weeks of grain left in the bin,” said Janice Tranberg, president and chief executive of the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association.

“We don’t think there is a lot of alternative grain available if we can’t get that U.S. corn, so this is quite disturbing.”