Back-to-work law introduced to end CP strike

Canadian Pacific Railway’s striking engineers, conductors, yardmen and trainspersons can expect to be ordered back to work later this week.

Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt on Monday introduced Bill C-39, which would require an end to the CP strike and the appointment of an arbitrator 12 hours after the law receives royal assent, expected before the end of the week.

The strike, which began Wednesday, "is affecting industries that contribute $540 million weekly to the Canadian economy through their use of the railway," Raitt said in a release.

"The strike will also put the jobs of thousands of Canadians at risk if it is prolonged."

C-39 would extend the terms of the 4,800-odd workers’ collective agreements, which expired at the end of December, up to whenever a new deal is reached.

The bill will also send outstanding issues between the workers, represented by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), and Calgary-based CP to "interest-based" binding arbitration.

Outstanding issues include the employee pension plan and "fatigue management," which TCRC vice-president Doug Finnson said Monday "is a reality, not a figment of our imagination.

"Is it too much to ask for our members to be able to sleep at home two days in a row, twice a month?"

C-39 wouldn’t prevent the company and union from reaching a new agreement on their own before the federally-appointed arbitrator files his or her final report with Raitt. That report will be required within 90 days of the arbitrator’s appointment.

It doesn’t appear now as though such talks were ever in CP’s plans, the Teamsters said in a release Monday, scheduling a demonstration for Tuesday afternoon on Parliament Hill.

CP "dragged out the negotiations, relying on the promise that the government would step in" with legislation, the union said.

"Obvious costs"

CP had no formal comment Monday, but groups representing shippers in the ag industry hailed Raitt’s move.

"As obvious costs are already mounting daily, future opportunities will also be lost — not something easily recoverable once the trains start rolling again," Western Grain Elevator Association executive director Wade Sobkowich said in a separate release.

The WGEA noted there are 182 elevators on CP lines in Canada, from which about 4,500 cars of grain are loaded weekly.

Furthermore, the handlers’ group said, about 20 grain vessels are expected to be waiting at port in Vancouver and Thunder Bay by Thursday.

Canada’s meat industry relies "heavily" on refrigerated rail transport to get products to port, the Canadian Meat Council said in a separate release.

"Our members are doing what they can to redirect products from (CP lines) to Canadian National (CN) Railway," council president Scott Entz said Monday. "But the balance needs to go on trucks — and that adds significant costs to our operations."

For its part, CN announced Monday that its 210 TCRC-represented rail traffic controllers have ratified a new three-year agreement, retroactive to Jan. 1.

"This agreement, reached without third-party assistance, demonstrates the strong working relationship we have developed with the TCRC," CN chief operating officer Keith Creel said in a release.

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