Feds Keeping an Eye on CP Rail Strike Talks
Federal Labour Minister Labour Lisa Raitt says Ottawa is prepared to table back-to-work legislation to end the strike at Canadian Pacific Rail but is urging both sides to keep talking to reach a deal.
Raitt wouldn't give a timeline for when the legislation could be tabled, only saying they're ready to act "if necessary."
Canadian Pacific has suspended rail freight service across the country but commuter trains in several large cities that use CP track continue to operate amid a strike by some 4,500 engineers, conductors and others.
The workers, represented by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, walked off the job just after midnight after the two sides were unable to reach an agreement despite talks that continued until the deadline.
Raitt says a prolonged strike would costs the Canadian economy $540 million a week.
The minister says she wants both sides to come to a deal on their own, but is willing to step in in the interests of the economy.
Both the union and CP spokesman Ed Greenberg have said the negotiations would continue Wednesday.
"We have made every reasonable effort to get a settlement," Teamsters vice-president Doug Finnson said in a statement posted on the union website.
"Every union member knows how important the outstanding issues are," Finnson added. "We will not walk away from the negotiation table."
Major points of contention are pensions, some work rules and fatigue management, he said.
The two sides had met with federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt on Tuesday morning and continued negotiations throughout the day.
"I am disappointed that the parties have not been able to reach agreements despite federal assistance and that strike action has begun," Raitt said in a statement Wednesday.
"The government is concerned about the national economic significance this will have and we are prepared to act in the interest of the national economy,'' she added.
The Conservative government in Ottawa has cited potential economic damage in the past for preventing or ending strikes at Air Canada and Canada Post.
"The best solution is always the one that the parties reach themselves," Raitt added. "I urge the parties to resume negotiations and work diligently to reach negotiated agreements or agree to submit to a binding process to settle their disputes."
The strike halts shipments of grain, fertilizer, coal and other goods Canadian Pacific moves along nearly 24,000 kilometres of track in Canada and the United States.
"As reported, the union has withdrawn its services and, as a result, CP has successfully executed the safe and structured shutdown of its freight train operations in Canada,'' Greenberg said in a statement.
"In addition to customer and supply chain impacts, the suspension of CP's freight service will also impact many of the connecting railways with whom we do business," he added.
Both sides had said Tuesday that commuter trains in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto would keep running in the event of a strike.
GO Transit's website confirmed Wednesday that there had been no disruption to passenger trains that use CP track along the Milton line west of Toronto.
Greenberg confirmed that commuter service also continued without disruption in Vancouver and Montreal.
Via Rail said Tuesday that two inter-city Via Rail routes in Ontario that use CP infrastructure would likely be affected: between Sudbury and White River and the Brockville-to-Ottawa segment of the Toronto-Ottawa route.
The strike comes at a time of major changes at Canada's second-biggest railway.
A bruising months-long proxy fight with the railway's biggest shareholder culminated last week in Fred Green's exit as CEO.
New York hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management argued the railway was lagging its peers under Green's leadership and that a change in CEO was necessary.
Green and five other board members stepped down hours before the company's annual general meeting last Thursday after it became evident shareholders had voted overwhelmingly for director nominees on Pershing's slate.
The Teamsters' Finnson said the union had not yet met with Green's interim replacement, Stephen Tobias, but that the management shakeup had not affected the bargaining process one way or the other.
The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference represents some 220 rail traffic controllers and 4,200 locomotive engineers, conductors, trainpersons and yardmen whose collective agreement expired on Dec. 31, 2011.
(The Canadian Press)