Shutdown begins at CP Rail as negotiations continue, while farmers brace for potential fallout

Calgary

The company and the union are pointing fingers of blame at each other for a shutdown of Canadian Pacific Railway operations that began Sunday while the two sides remained at the bargaining table.

An employee boards a Canadian Pacific Railway locomotive at a yard in Calgary on Friday.(Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The company and the union are pointing fingers of blame at each other for a shutdown of Canadian Pacific Railway operations that began early Sunday while the two sides remained at the bargaining table.

A spokesperson for Teamsters Canada Rail Conference said the union is expecting to be back at the bargaining table with a mediator today.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents some 3,000 engineers, conductors, yard workers, and other train employees, issued a release just before midnight saying a lockout was being initiated by management at the Calgary-based railway.

But hours later the company put out a release stating that while the company was still engaged in contract talks facilitated by federal mediators, the TCRC "withdrew its services and issued a news release misrepresenting the status of the talks." It added that CP was working with its customers to wind down its operations across Canada.

The union then issued a subsequent release which said that in addition to the lockout, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference members were also on strike at CP throughout the country with picketing underway at various Canadian Pacific locations.

The office of federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan said in a statement that while the work stoppage had begun, both parties were still at the bargaining table with mediators and it expected "the parties to keep working until they reach an agreement." The more than two dozen outstanding issues in the dispute include wages, benefits and pensions.

Update: The work stoppage has begun, but CP and Teamsters are still at the table with federal mediators. Parties are working through the night. We are monitoring the situation closely and expect the parties to keep working until they reach an agreement.

—@SeamusORegan

Fertilizer Canada, a group representing manufacturers, wholesale and retail distributors, called on the federal government to take immediate action.

"Canada cannot afford another disruption to our supply chain," Karen Proud, the group's president and CEO, said in a statement released Sunday morning. "Seventy-five per cent of all fertilizer in Canada is moved by rail. During the lead-up to spring seeding, every day, frankly every hour, counts."

Tom Steve, general manager of the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions, echoed this, saying the farmers need the fertilizer to have a strong growing season, especially after last year's drought.

"The timing is really bad, particularly for farmers coming out of the worst drought in 20 years. So a lot of them are short of cash flow. And if they can't move that last bit of crop in a timely fashion, that's going to affect their ability to finance the crop," he said.

"We always have a significant percentage of fertilizer that moves on to farms in the spring season, and so [the strike] will create a logistical nightmare."

Tom Steve, general manager of the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions, said farmers can't afford to lose rail service for more than a few days.(Terri Trembath/CBC)

Last week, about 45 industry groups warned that any disruption of rail service would hinder Canada's freight capacity and hurt the broader economy as it grapples with inflation, product shortages, rising fuel costs and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

"This will probably be the most expensive crop that is seeded in western Canadian history," Steve said.

CP Rail had issued a 72-hour notice to the TCRC of its plan to implement a lockout on Sunday if the union and the company failed to reach a negotiated settlement or agree to binding arbitration.

The union said in its release that it wanted to continue bargaining but "unfortunately, the employer chose to put the Canadian supply chain and tens of thousands of jobs at risk."

TCRC spokesperson Dave Fulton called the turn of events "disappointing" saying the railway must be "taken to task" for this decision.

He said the union was willing to explore an arbitrator's decision but was unable to reach an agreement with the employer.

"They set the deadline for a lockout to happen tonight when we were willing to pursue negotiations," he said. "Even more so, they then moved the goalpost when it came time to discuss the terms of final and binding arbitration."

CP, for its part, blamed the union for the shutdown.

"This is clearly a failure of the TCRC Negotiating Committee's responsibility to negotiate in good faith," it said in its statement.

'You're going to see a lot of hurt'

Both Steve and Bob Lowe, president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, said if the union and management aren't able to work together, they'd like to see them move into binding arbitration.

Steve said grain farmers can't afford a work stoppage of more than a few days.

Meanwhile, cattle farmers are worried about getting enough feed for their animals. Last year's drought forced them to rely on corn being delivered by rail from the U.S.

"You're going to see a lot of hurt if it lasts two weeks," said Lowe.

"There's just not enough trucks on the planet to get enough corn up here to make a difference."

Bob Lowe, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, says Canadian cattle farmers are heavily relying on getting feed from the U.S. by train because last year's drought created a huge shortage in Canada. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Lowe has spoken to policy makers, CP Rail and the union to explain how dire of a situation a halt to rail service would create.

He expects they will need to import 400 times the amount of feed from the U.S. than they did last year.

"A rail strike is never a good thing, but this one hits us right where it hurts."

With files from Terri Trembath and Dominika Lirette

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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