Possible dual railway strike looms as contract negotiations remain stalled

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The possibility of both CN Rail and CPKC striking in the next month could leave farmers sitting on grain contracted for delivery this spring.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), the union representing more than nine thousand CN and CPKC railway workers, organized an electronic strike vote beginning on April 8th to give members the option of moving ahead with a strike. The vote wraps up on May 1 (Wednesday). If members give their union representatives a strike mandate, the earliest a strike could begin is May 22.

The negotiations and strike vote revolve around three collective bargaining contracts that expired in December 2023.

Despite the federal Ministry of Labour appointing conciliators on March 1 to help both CN and CPKC and the TCRC reach new negotiated agreements, both sides have said that there has been little progress made since April.

The TCRC released a Negotiation Bulletin on April 24 encouraging all eligible members to vote if they have not already done so. In the bulletin they also state, “We understand the potential impact of a work stoppage and are committed to reaching a resolution. At the same time, our demands are not unreasonable and there is no excuse why we cannot negotiate an acceptable collective agreement.”

The union is concerned about rest rights, work-life balance for its members, as well as seeking significant wage increases.

“The way I see it, the positions have not changed a lot. We have two options on the table. We have what I call a status quo deal… the second is a progressive hourly deal. I can tell you that that progressive hourly deal in my assessment addresses what our employees want and need,” said CPKC president, Keith Creel on the company’s earnings conference call April 24.

94 per cent of Canadian grain is shipped by rail. The value of Canadian grain exports as of 2023 was $36.2 billion. When boats are not loaded according to contract timelines, shippers are charged daily demurrage costs, which are ultimately passed on to farmers.

Related: Over 9,000 workers to vote on strike mandate

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