Trains halt across Canada as union workers strike

Canadian flag (Pixlr)

OTTAWA, ONT – The union and CP Rail blamed each other for a work stoppage Sunday that saw trains come to halt across Canada.

More than 3,000 CP Rail conductors, engineers, train and yard workers represented by Teamsters Canada Rail Conference are off the job after a midnight deadline set by the company to agree on a contract failed to secure a deal.

The two sides say they were still talking with federal mediators.

The union said in a statement that the company had locked the workers out, but later issued another statement saying that the workers were also on strike.

The original statement posted to the TCRC website late Saturday said the union wanted to continue bargaining but the company ``chose to put the Canadian supply chain and tens of thousands of jobs at risk.″

``As Canadians grapple with a never-ending pandemic, exploding commodity prices and the war in Ukraine, the rail carrier is adding an unnecessary layer of insecurity, especially for those who depend on the rail network,″ the statement said.

CP Rail, Canada’s second largest railroad operator, said it was the company that wanted to keep talking past the midnight deadline, and the union that pulled its employees off the job.

CP President Keith Creel said in a news release the union ``failed to respond″ to a new offer presented by mediators before the midnight deadline.

“Instead, the TCRC opted to withdraw their services before the deadline for a strike or lockout could legally take place,″ he said. ``The TCRC is well aware of the damage this reckless action will cause to the Canadian supply chain.″

Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan urged the two sides to keep bargaining.

``There are always challenges in bargaining, but you push through them to get the agreement you need,″ O’Regan said on Twitter. ``CP and Teamsters Rail continue their work today. Canadians are counting on a quick resolution.″

The CP Rail dispute will impact supply chains that are already being hammered by ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, were hit by trucker convoy protests blocking border crossings in February, and now are dealing with the effects, particularly on global fuel supplies, of the Russian invasion in Ukraine.

All the disruptions pushed inflation to a three-decade high, with essentials such as food and fuel facing some of the sharpest price hikes.

CP and the union have been negotiating since September, with wages and pensions a sticking point. For the union, a clause on where employees take their federally mandated break periods is also an issue.

CP Rail says this is the fifth work stoppage since 1993 and the eighth time in nine trips to the bargaining table that contract talks resulted in a need for federal conciliation.