Dual rail strike could be delayed until the busiest grain shipping time of year


A potential labour stoppage at both of Canada’s main railways — CN Rail and CPKC — likely won’t begin until the middle of July or later, according to CPKC, raising the prospects of an unprecedented rail shutdown coinciding with the start of harvest and the busiest grain shipping season of the year.

More than nine thousand workers at CN and CPKC who are members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference were in a position to strike as of May 22, but Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan Jr. intervened before that could happen by calling for a review of the impact a rail stoppage would have on the health and safety of Canadians. The union and railways are not legally allowed to start a strike or lockout until the review by the Canada Industrial Relations Board is completed.

“While it remains unclear how long it will take for the CIRB to issue a decision, based on precedent, it is unlikely the parties will be in a position to initiate a legal strike or lockout before mid-July or later,” says CPKC, in a bargaining update posted on its website on May 22.

Several farm groups, including the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and Wheat Growers, submitted comments for the CIRB to consider ahead of a deadline for submissions earlier this week.

“Were a labour disruption to affect transportation of goods into this fall, the peak period for shipment of grains and many other agricultural products, the consequences could very well extend beyond this shipping season and have long-term implications for agri-food exports in key markets around the world,” wrote CFA president Keith Currie.

Part of the CIRB’s review is focused on the availability of propane in the event of a rail stoppage. Farmers in many parts of the country require a reliable supply of propane for grain drying, as well as heating and cooling of barns and greenhouses, noted Currie: “The inability to access these products at critical stages of production could result in food loss due to spoilage, acute animal welfare concerns, and the inability to maintain business continuity due to a lack of essential inputs.”

The railways and union have until May 31 to submit their rebuttals to the board.

CPKC says it has offered to resolve the labour dispute through binding arbitration, but the offer was rebuffed by the union. CPKC and the Teamsters representatives met between May 15 and May 21, but the railway and union said no progress was made, and no additional bargaining dates have been scheduled.

CN and the union also met from May 13 to 17. CN said it tabled a new offer on May 16, but the union said CN “remained unreasonable and has continued to refuse to bargain our demands.”

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