Two unions set to strike Saturday at CP

(Dave Bedard photo)

Unions representing engineers, conductors and signal maintainers on Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) have served formal notice to strike starting Saturday.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), which represents about 3,000 CP engineers and conductors, served strike notice late Tuesday, as did System Council No. 11 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), representing over 360 CP rail signals and communications staff.

If exercised, both strike notices would take effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

The TCRC said it would continue talks with CP Wednesday morning, adding it “hopes to reach a negotiated settlement that its members can ratify, and to move forward without a service disruption.”

Citing a “lack of progress at the bargaining table,” however, the TCRC also said “systematically bullying workers, while pushing them to work well beyond their point of exhaustion, is part of the reason why workers at CP have been forced to risk strike action for the third time in six years.”

CP conductors and engineers last held a one-day strike in February 2015, ending in binding arbitration under threat of federal back-to-work legislation from the former Conservative government.

IBEW System Council No. 11 chairman Steve Martin, in a release Sunday, said the union has also “maintained a willingness to continue bargaining without the intent of a work stoppage.”

IBEW’s members at CP handle assembly, repair, testing, inspection and maintenance of electronic equipment and components on rail lines and railroad crossings.

While it has “always negotiated collective agreements without a work stoppage” at CP in the past, IBEW said CP, during this round of talks, “has continually attempted to defer bargaining to binding arbitration.

“By refusing to extend conciliation and minimizing their availability to meet, CP has forced what seems to be an inevitable work stoppage while openly seeking government intervention with an end potential of arbitration.”

The TCRC, in a separate release last Saturday, also accused CP of “attempting to manufacture a crisis to force government intervention and avoid bargaining with the Teamsters,” adding that arbitration “leads to better outcomes for the company.”

“Serving a strike notice is part of the bargaining process that unions must follow if they want to be able to strike,” CP CEO Keith Creel said in a separate release Wednesday morning.

CP, he said, “urge(s) the two unions to work closely with us and the federal mediators to achieve a positive outcome as soon as possible in the hours leading up to the deadline.”

Calgary-based CP said Wednesday it “continues to work closely with the TCRC and made significant movement in bargaining Monday afternoon, presenting the TCRC with new progressive three- and five-year agreement options.”

The railway said it would meet with the IBEW later Wednesday and “is presenting the union with streamlined three-year and five-year agreements for consideration.”

“At the end of the day, this is all about our 12,000-strong CP family, and making decisions that benefit all of our employees,” Creel said. “Further, those decisions must be rooted in providing service to our customers and delivering for our shareholders.”

Federal Labour Minister Patty Hajdu, in a statement Wednesday afternoon, said she has been “closely monitoring the situation through the FMCS (Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service) and will continue to do so.”

FMCS mediators are working with all parties in talks, she said, noting all are “remaining at the bargaining table to continue their discussions.”

Hajdu said she would speak soon with IBEW brass and has spoken to Creel and TCRC president Doug Finnson, having “communicated my expectation that the parties will continue to negotiate in good faith and arrive at an agreement.”

Hajdu’s statement did not mention the option of back-to-work legislation in the event of a strike. The federal government, she said, “has always supported a fair and balanced collective bargaining process, because it gets results.”

The Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions said Wednesday they have written to Hajdu to “take immediate steps to prevent strike action.”

“We need immediate government intervention to make sure that an already difficult situation with grain movement by rail does not worsen,” Alberta Barley chair Jason Lenz said in a release.

“The movement of grain is so essential to the Canadian economy that it should never be disrupted by strike action. But unfortunately, we see labour disputes almost every year.”

“If a strike were to take place, farmers who can only access the CP line would have no other options to move their grain and would have to wait until rail is moving again to be paid,” AWC chair Kevin Bender said in the same release. “This will in turn cause major cashflow issues into this year’s growing season.” — Network

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