Talks stalled in CP rail strike

by The Canadian Press with files from MM&D staff

OTTAWA , Ontario: The federal government is expected to introduce back-to-work legislation on today after negotiations between Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd and its striking locomotive engineers and conductors fell apart over the weekend.

CP Rail and the union representing 4,800 workers who have been on strike since Wednesday, confirmed that talks broke off Sunday afternoon with little hope of resumption.

“With the mediator withdrawing and the federal minister releasing the parties this afternoon, the legislative process can now commence,” said Ed Greenberg, a spokesperson for CP Rail.

Labour minister, Lisa Raitt, said she still hoped the parties could agree on a process that would end the strike, but made clear she would not wait long.

Pensions, as well as work rules and fatigue management remained major points of contention in the bargaining process.

Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents workers at CP as well as its chief competitor Canadian National Railway among others, blamed the rail company for the stalled talks.

“Unfortunately, the company negotiated in bad faith despite Minister Raitt’s wishes,” said Doug Finnson, the union’s vice-president.

“Canadian Pacific was hiding behind the federal government since the very beginning of the process.”

But CP Rail said it was only fair that the union agreed to a deal similar to the one the they have in place with CP’s primary competitor, Canadian National.

“The real issue is the reluctance of the Teamsters to agree to pension provisions comparable to those provided to employees represented by the Teamsters at other Canadian railways,” Greenberg said.

“We were simply seeking the same agreement to insure CP can remain competitive.”

Raitt said government officials had been talking with impacted industries, farmers and the mining sector, and the reports are that the strike is “starting to actually affect their operations”.

The minister gave notice of intention to intervene shortly after Wednesday morning’s walkout halted the company’s freight train service across the country, meaning she can table the bill as early as today and strikers can be ordered back to work later in the week.

As she did with two previous labour disputes affecting Air Canada and Canada Post, Raitt cited the damage to Canada’s fragile economic recovery for quickly bringing the strikes to an end. She has estimated that a prolonged strike by CP Rail works could cost the Canadian economy an estimated $540 million a week.

According to some people the economic hits have already started to occur.

“The strike has already had significant economic and long-term reputational effects on the Canada’s Pacific Gateway. Mines, plants and operations down the supply chain are facing shut-downs,” said Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester.  “We are disappointed that the two parties have not been able to come to a resolution without intervention from government.  As such, we are calling on the government and Minister Raitt to immediately bring the stoppage to an end by introducing the necessary legislation.”

Others are calling for more over-reaching action from the government. CITA, for example, wants the government to take steps to prevent similar work stoppages from being able to happen in the future.

“The time has come to look at the definition of ‘essential services’ under the Canada Labour Code,” said CITA president Bob Ballantyne. “The current definition that limits it to an ‘immediate threat to public health and safety’ needs to be reviewed and broadened.”

“In a geographically large country like Canada that exports large quantities of natural resource commodities, rail freight is essential to the health of the Canadian economy.”