Canadian Labor Minister Lisa Raitt plans to meet with representatives of Canadian Pacific and a railroad union today in an effort to prevent a looming strike.
The government attempt to divert a work stoppage that could begin as soon as Wednesday comes after Canadian fertilizer and grain shippers urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to impose back-to-work legislation if a strike occurred. The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, a union representing 4,800 engineers, conductors and rail traffic controllers, said they could strike anytime after May 22 if CP didn’t agree to its contract demands.
“Our government is concerned that a work stoppage would have a negative effect on Canadian businesses and families, and the economy,” Raitt said. “That’s why I have invited the parties to attend a working summit in hope that we can avoid any disruption of services.”
The Canadian Fertilizer Institute and Grain Growers of Canada said the work stoppage would hurt country’s economy and hinder exports, as demand for fertilizers, particularly potash, is high. CFI members annually produce about 25 million metric tons of fertilizers, with about 80 percent of the products exported, while CGC members represent tens of thousands of grain, pulse and oilseed farmers.
“Canadian grain farmers have sale orders to fill around the world and are heavily dependent on the railways to move their product to market,” the two associations wrote Harper in a May 20 letter. “ Even in good times, the Canadian pulse industry is often only able to procure between 12 percent and 18 percent of its car orders, and any disruption in rail service makes it nearly impossible to operate.”
The duo urged Harper to work in the long-term with the union and the railroads so future labor disputes “do not hold broad segments of the Canadian economy hostage.”
The union on April 26 voted to launch a strike anytime after May 22 if CP didn't stop trying to shift workers to a cheaper pension plan. The TCRC also said concerns about “fatigue management and work/life balance also remain unresolved.”
The railroad said changes need to be made to the legacy pensions and post-retirement benefits to make CP competitive with other railroads. CP contributed about $1.9 billion of solvency deficit contributions to its pension plan in the last three years.