CP Rail sees ‘gap’ in labour talks as strike deadline nears

by BLOOMBERG

MONTREAL • Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd (CP) said a new labour agreement with thousands of train conductors and other workers remains elusive, less than a week before the deadline for the start of a strike that could cripple its network.

“Despite CP’s best efforts, a significant gap remains” between the company and two unions, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, CP said in a statement late last Friday. A work stoppage could occur as early as 12:01am on April 21.

The talks come as Canada’s second biggest railroad grapples with increased volumes following contract wins. CP’s first-quarter carloads climbed 3% on higher shipments of petroleum products, chemicals and intermodal containers, Walter Spracklin, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto, said in a note to clients on April 10.

A work stoppage “will severely impact CP’s ability to continue to provide safe and efficient freight and passenger and commuter service”, CP said. “All customers and commodities would be impacted at a time when demand is soaring.”

Commuter Impact

Commuters in Canada’s three biggest cities — Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver — would also be affected because many of the trains they ride on use CP’s network.

Teamsters Canada represents about 3,000 train conductors and engineers, while the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is negotiating on behalf of about 360 signal maintainers.

Meetings with both unions are planned for this week, CP said, adding that the company will “continue to bargain in good faith”.

Calling the company’s comments “replete with fabrication and innuendo”, Teamsters Canada said on Saturday that the railroad “is attempting to manufacture a crisis to force government intervention and avoid bargaining” with the union.

“If CP truly wants to avoid a strike, all they need to do is show up on time at the bargaining table, be prepared to negotiate with the Teamsters, and stop lobbying the government to save them from themselves,” Teamsters Canada president Doug Finnson said in the statement.

‘Bullying’ Claim

In February 2015, the last time CP experienced a strike, both sides agreed to go into mediated arbitration after a one-day walkout by Teamsters Canada members. That prompted Canada’s federal government to abandon plans to pursue back-to-work legislation.

Teamsters Canada also disputed CP CEO Keith Creel’s assertion that “labour outreach” is his top priority.

CP is “rife” with labour and safety problems that include “systematically bullying workers, while pushing them to work well beyond their point of exhaustion”, the union said.

Jeremy Berry, a CP spokes man in Calgary, declined to comment on Teamsters Canada’s statement.

Teamsters Canada has 108 outstanding demands — equivalent to more than C$250 million (RM768.42 million) over three years — to the company’s five, CP said in its statement last Friday.

As for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, its 85 outstanding issues would represent about C$27 million in costs over three years, according to the company.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers didn’t immediately respond on Saturday to an emailed request for comment on the labour negotiations.