CP Railway workers on strike after last-minute talks fail

Canadian Pacific Railway‘s freight deliveries screeched to a halt early Wednesday after workers went on strike. Last-minute negotiations between CP and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference failed to reach an agreement before the midnight deadline.

“We have made every reasonable effort to get a settlement,” Doug Finnson, Teamsters vice-president, told the CBC. “Every union member knows how important the outstanding issues are. We will not walk away from the negotiation table.”

The Globe and Mail is reporting that Via Rail, which runs on CP tracks in some areas, is relying on alternative transportation between Ottawa and Sarnia, and White River and Sudbury. A deal was struck on Tuesday to ensure that commuter trains in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver will remain open despite the labour strife, the Montreal Gazette reports.

The main points of contention between the Teamsters and CP have been management’s attempts to enroll new union hires on less costly benefit contribution plans, and water down existing pensions by 40 per cent, according to the union. The Teamsters represent more than 4,800 conductors, yard workers, rail traffic controllers and engineers. Their last five-year collective agreement with CP expired Dec. 31, 2011.

The federal government, which has been willing to step in and force resolutions at high profile labour disputes in recent months, has indicated a concern over a prolonged strike at CP. “Our government is concerned that a work stoppage would have a negative effect on Canadian businesses, families, and the economy,” Industry Minister Lisa Raitt said in a statement, quoted by the National Post.

Pierre Gratton, President and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada, has also expressed worry. His industry relies heavily on freight service and wants Raitt to force arbitration. “A strike by CP workers will have a serious effect on the industry,” Gratton said in a statement. “The shipment of fuel and other supplies to mine sites will be compromised as is the transport of mineral products.”