Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail) has triggered the 72-hour notice required for a lockout of over 3,000 conductors, engineers and other railway employees who are members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC).
Unless the union and railway reach a negotiated settlement or agree to binding arbitration in the meantime, the lockout would begin at 00:01 ET on March 20. This would mark the fourth consecutive time that labour talks between CP and the TCRC have resulted in a work stoppage — following a similar pattern set in 2012, 2015, and 2018.
There are major concerns about the consequences of CP going offline when it comes to critical imports of feed supplies for livestock in Western Canada following last year’s drought, as well as delivery of fertilizer throughout North America ahead of the spring planting season. Businesses that rely on CP have already been reporting cancelled shipments and disruptions in service over the past week due to the possibility of the work stoppage.
Following the union’s 96.7 per cent vote in favour of a strike mandate in late February, a federally-appointed mediator met with both parties from March 11 through March 16, but they were unable to reach an agreement.
“For the sake of our employees, our customers, the supply chain we serve and the Canadian economy that is trying to recover from multiple disruptions, we simply cannot prolong for weeks or months the uncertainty associated with a potential labour disruption,” said Keith Creel, CP President and CEO, in a statement late Wednesday. “Delaying resolution would only make things worse. We take this action with a view to bringing this uncertainty to an end.”
CP says it has implemented its work stoppage contingency plan and “will work closely with customers to achieve a smooth, efficient and safe wind-down of Canadian operations.”
The TCRC says it is willing to remain at the bargaining table until the lockout deadline, and beyond.
“It was well known that CP was going to force a work stoppage and lockout our members. They have done just that,” said Dave Fulton, spokesperson for TCRC, in a statement Wednesday night. “At the bargaining table, CP continues to dismiss our members’ demands and are unwilling to negotiate the issues they have created. We remain committed to reaching an acceptable agreement that addresses our members issues. Our members are fully engaged and will be ready in the event CP carries out the notice.”
Many farm and agriculture industry groups, as well as shippers in other industries, have called on the federal government to act to prevent any work stoppage from wreaking havoc on supply chains. Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan Jr. acknowledged the looming lockout deadline, but stopped short of committing to an order-in-council or legislation to end the lockout. (Federal back-to-work action applies to both strikes and lockouts.)
“Our government respects and has faith in the collective bargaining process, because we know that the best deals are the ones reached by the parties at the bargaining table,” said Minister O’Regan Jr. “We are encouraged to see that both parties are still negotiating. We have been in touch with the parties directly, urging them to work together to resolve their issues and reach a deal as quickly as possible, and will continue to do so.”