OTTAWA, Ontario: Even though legislation to send striking CP employees back to work isn’t be introduced to the House of Commons until after 3:00 PM EDT, the build-up to the event has been an all-day affair.
Separate, press conferences were held by both the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) and by a selection of federal government ministers. There was also ongoing debate in the sparsely attended session in the House, leading up to the introduction of the legislation.
During the Teamsters’ press conference, TCRC vice-president and chief negotiator Doug Finnson, addressed one of the key sticking points between the two parties: pensions.
“We’re not asking to expand our pension, we’re fighting to protect our pension. We’re fighting for our lives here. We spent our entire lives paying for this. If anybody expects the teamsters and the workers to sit down for this, they don’t know who we are,” he said. “We’re not going to give it to the shareholders to squander it.”
As for the back-to-work legislation and the government’s intervention in the labour dispute, he accused CP of stalling and bargaining in bad faith, hoping to force the government’s hand.
“We’re not blaming the government for trying to get the process to work, but we don’t agree with the legislation they are trying to pass. But if they [CP] have discussions with the government, we are blaming them. They’re a private company that is making profits.”
He added that any back-to-work legislation is an attack on collective bargaining and on unions.
“The only way to stop the situation is to stop intervening into the collective bargaining process and unfairly favouring the employers. CP won’t be isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last company, to turn to back-to-work legislation.”
As to what the Teamsters’ next moves would be, Finnson said he’d have to give it some thought.
“We’re going to have a look at the legislation first. It depends on what kind of arbitration there is—if there any conditions placed on the arbitrator.
“If the government unfairly favours the employer for some reason, we’ll have to face that, so I don’t know what it will be.”
One definite action it has taken, however, is a planned demonstration on Parliament Hill on Tuesday, May 29 at 1:00 PM EDT.
During the government’s press conference, labour minister Lisa Raitt, outlined her plan to deal with the situation.
“We have started a procedural motion to guide what the debate will be,” she said, adding the motion would be introduced shortly after 3:00 PM EDT. “From past precedent we’d like to see CP Rail roll on Thursday, but we’d like it sooner, quite frankly, and that’s the message today….We are on day six and we take this very seriously.”
Raitt was backed up by a handful of ministers including minister of agriculture, Gerry Ritz, minister of state for agriculture, Christian Paradis, minister of natural resources, Joe Oliver, and minister of transport, infrastructure and communities, Denis Lebel.
All of the ministers stressed the economic reasons for imposing the back-to-work legislation.
“A disruption in the supply network would affect every company in the chain from the smallest to the largest,” said Lebel. “These impacts would reach far beyond the estimated $30 to $50 million dollars a day in lost productivity and expenses. Companies that cannot fill orders risk position and reliability in the global market place. Retailers with no product will risk losing customers. And factories with no means to deliver will risk having to shut down production which will risk hundreds of thousands of of jobs across the country.”
Earlier in the day, Raitt stood before the House of Commons and outlined some of the government’s economic justifications for introducing the legislation.
“An October 2009 report by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management found four key bulk shipping industries—oil seed and grain farming, coal wood products manufacturing and pulp and paper—contributed over $81 billion per year to the Canadian GDP and accounted for over one million jobs.
“These million people depend upon CP depend on to move their product. Without trained and certified conductors, without engineers without traffic controllers, CP Rail services have completely shut down. That has resulted in temporary work losses within the Canadian bulk shipping industry as well as within CP Rail,” she said.
“According to Transport Canada, 2010, CP Rail handled the shipping of 74 percent of Canada’s potash, 57 percent of its wheat, 53 per cent of its coal and 39 percent of the continers in Canada. To put that in monetary terms, that’s $5 billion dollars worth of potash, $11.1 billion worth of grain and $5.25 billion worth of coal annually.
“If this work stoppage is prolonged, the loss of productivity and revenue could translate into permanent job losses.”
Beyond the effect the stoppage could have on the resources sectors, Raitt also addressed manufacturing industries, making special mention of the automotive sector and mentioning the possibility of plant shut downs if parts become unavailable.
“The work stoppage is preventing Canada’s ability to move products in and out of Canada and that undermines Canada’s reputation as a reliable place to do business. It is a setback from which it could take years to recover lost business and lost investments.
“It is very clear the government must act now to resume rail services at CP Rail, as the prospect of a ratified agreement in the short-term seems very unlikely.”
As for CP, it stayed relatively mum today, only issuing a brief statement.
“Canadian Pacific recognizes the legislative process is now with the House of Commons and CP will cooperate with any decision of Parliament,” said CP spokesperson Ed Greenberg.
“Once the legislative process unfolds, our company will shift our attention to fully preparing for a timely and disciplined ramp-up in operations with a view to achieve full production levels as soon as possible for the benefit of all our customers. Any resumption of train operations is based on safe and efficient operational recovery to establish fluid operations and maximize our effective capabilities for the benefit of all customers.”
Greenberg added it was “too early at this time to know how quickly the rail company could be back to a normal schedule.”
While government ministers were ready to talk about worst case scenarios, at least one industry association said that although members had been suffering economic hardships, the situation wasn’t completely critical—yet.
Isabelle Des Chênes, vice-president, marketing relations and communications of the Forest Products Association of Canada, said her members, which represent 138 wood product producers and 42 pulp and paper producers, estimate the strike is costing them $22 million per day.
The members being especially hurt are six captive mills—four in British Columbia and two in Ontario—that are wholly reliant upon CP to move in supplies and move out products.
If the strike becomes prolonged, then her members might face the possibilities of shutdowns.
“The best case is if everything is done by Wednesday or Thursday, and CP is back to work.”
Until then her members are still operating in a margin of safety, she said.
Even still, the association is still pleased to see the back to work legislation.
“The Forest Products Association of Canada today welcomed the government’s action to move forward on back to work legislation to bring to an end the ongoing strike by CP’s freight conductors and switching yard employees. The industry encouraged all parliamentarians to support this legislation to prevent further disruption to the economy.”