Conductors, Engineers on Picket Line as CP Rail, Union Can’t Reach Deal

By The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
March 20, 2022 Updated: March 20, 2022

OTTAWA—Canadians expect a swift end to a work stoppage at CP Rail, federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan said Sunday, hours after thousands of workers ended up on the picket line and trains came to a halt nationwide.

There is already pressure on O’Regan to end the labour dispute, but his spokeswoman said Sunday morning the government believes the best deal is reached at the bargaining table.

“There are always challenges in bargaining, but you push through them to get the agreement you need,” O’Regan said on Twitter. “CP and Teamsters Rail continue their work today. Canadians are counting on a quick resolution.”

More than 3,000 CP Rail conductors, engineers, train and yard workers represented by Teamsters Canada Rail Conference are off the job after a midnight deadline set by the company to agree on a contract failed to secure a deal.

Dozens of industry groups asked the government to intervene last week and get a binding arbitration process in place before any strike or lockout.

On Sunday, Canadian Chamber of Commerce President Perrin Beatty said O’Regan must table back to work legislation immediately.

“This work stoppage will have a deep and adverse impact for all Canadian businesses — both big and small — who rely on rail for their supply chain,” Beatty said. “This severe damage to Canadian supply chains at a time of heightened global uncertainty will extend beyond our borders and harm our reputation as a reliable partner in international trade.”

The House of Commons resumes Monday following a two−week break so legislation could come Monday if the government wanted.

Fertilizer Canada also said Ottawa must take “immediate action.”

“A disruption to essential rail service during the crucial spring seeding season will have devastating effects on farmers, the economy, and domestic and international food security,” the group said.

The company and union both blamed the other for causing the work stoppage, though both also said they were still talking with federal mediators Sunday.

The union said in a statement that the company had locked the workers out, but later issued another statement saying that the workers were also on strike.

The original statement posted to the TCRC website late Saturday said the union wanted to continue bargaining but the company “chose to put the Canadian supply chain and tens of thousands of jobs at risk.”

“As Canadians grapple with a never−ending pandemic, exploding commodity prices and the war in Ukraine, the rail carrier is adding an unnecessary layer of insecurity, especially for those who depend on the rail network,” the statement said.

But CP Rail said it was the company that wanted to keep talking past the midnight deadline, and the union that pulled its employees off the job.

CP President Keith Creel said in a news release the union “failed to respond” to a new offer presented by mediators before the midnight deadline.

““Instead, the TCRC opted to withdraw their services before the deadline for a strike or lockout could legally take place,” he said. “The TCRC is well aware of the damage this reckless action will cause to the Canadian supply chain.”

The company said the union’s insistence that it was a lockout was a “failure” to bargain in good faith and it is taking steps to address “this egregious behaviour.”

CP Rail said it is “executing a safe and structured shutdown” of train operations nationwide.

The CP Rail dispute will impact supply chains that are already being hammered by ongoing effects of the COVID−19 pandemic, were hit by trucker convoy protests blocking border crossings in February, and now are dealing with the effects, particularly on global fuel supplies, of the Russian invasion in Ukraine.

All the disruptions pushed inflation to a three−decade high, with essentials such as food and fuel facing some of the sharpest price hikes.

CP and the union have been negotiating since September, with wages and pensions a sticking point. For the union, a clause on where employees take their federally mandated break periods is also an issue.

CP Rail says this is the fifth work stoppage since 1993 and the eighth time in nine trips to the bargaining table that contract talks resulted in a need for federal conciliation.

By Mia Rabson