Talks continue in hopes of finding a settlement after Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) workers went on strike Wednesday.
Some 4,800 workers went on strike at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, May 23, effectively shutting down Canadian Pacific Railway freight service from Vancouver to Montreal.
In response, CP has given some 2,000 non-striking employees temporary layoff notices with as many as 1,400 more temporary layoffs potentially coming down the line.
TCRC vice-president Doug Finnson said issues such as pensions and health and safety were among the outstanding points of contention throughout negotiations. He added that his organization would continue to negotiate for as long as necessary to hash out a new deal.
“We have made every reasonable effort to get a settlement, said Doug Finnson, vice-president of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC). Every union member knows how important the outstanding issues are. We will not walk away from the negotiation table.”
The decision may ultimately be out of the union’s hands. Canadian Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said the government would consider implementing back-to-work legislation given the country’s economic dependence on the rail line, estimating that the strike could cost the country upwards of half a billion dollars in lost economic activity per week.
“We want to encourage bargaining at the table,” she said. “But (the TCRC and CP Rail) have to be aware of the fact that the Canadian government will step in on the basis of the national economy and the greater public interest at some point.”
The mining industry will be hit extremely hard if the labour disruption continues over the long term. That industry relies on the rail system to bring fuel to mining sites or carry mined goods from the sites.
“A strike by CP workers will have a serious effect on the industry,” said Mining Association of Canada (MAC) president and CEO Pierre Gratton. “The shipment of fuel and other supplies to mine sites will be compromised as is the transport of mineral products.”
The relationship between mining and rail goes both ways. In its latest Facts & Figures report, the MAC said the mining industry is responsible for more than half of all freight revenues brought in by the rail system.
CP’s single largest customer, mining company Teck Resources Ltd., is but one example of the industry members who could see their businesses severely hampered by the strike. Teck Resources relies on rail for transportation of goods to and from five coal mines in British Columbia.
Raitt said back-to-work legislation could be enacted as soon as next Monday.