Harper government poised to introduce bill to end CP Rail strike

The strike against CP Rail began after contract talks failed to reach an agreement before the midnight deadline

OTTAWA – The federal government is poised to introduce legislation to end a strike by more than 3,000 members of the Teamsters union against Canadian Pacific Railway.

A government source told The Canadian Press the legislation is to be tabled Monday morning. A notice to allow for introduction of the bill was placed on the Commons order paper late Friday afternoon.

The strike against CP Rail (TSX:CP) began after contract talks failed to reach an agreement before the midnight deadline.

The Teamsters union represents 3,300 locomotive engineers and other train workers at CP.

The bill, titled “An Act to provide for the resumption of rail service operations,” will be presented by Labour Minister Kellie Leitch, who took part in the talks. In a statement issued Saturday night after negotiations broke down, Leitch made it clear that the government was prepared to act quickly.

“Due to this reckless disregard for Canadians, and the Canadian economy, our government will review all available options to end any work-stoppage expediently, up to and including the introduction of legislation in Parliament,” she said.

Teamsters President Douglas Finnson said he was disappointed by news of a bill, describing it as “premature and unnecessary.” He said the crucial issues of driver fatigue and working conditions were best settled through further negotiating.

NDP Labour critic Alexandre Boulerice was quick to denounce the planned legislation, saying it amounted to a removal of the workers’ right to strike.

“It will put public safety at risk, since the problem of long hours and fatigue among those conductors will not be resolved,” he said.

Peter Edwards, vice-president of labour relations for CP Rail, says he supports the government’s bill in light of the failure of negotiations.

“What we’re really hoping for is an agreement that will work for both, but we haven’t been able to get it” he said. “We’re supportive of getting our good railroaders back.”

He said that although “the door is open” to continue negotiating with the union, no additional talks have been scheduled.

The strike is expected to affect both passenger and freight train service across the country.

CP Rail said it would deploy management personnel to operate a reduced freight service on its Canadian network, but Edwards said he did not know how many trains would be operating.

The stoppage of several commuter train routes in the Montreal area was expected to strand 19,000 daily commuters.

VIA rail, on the other hand, issued a statement Sunday informing customers that its trains would be operating normally.

An American union also jumped into the dispute Sunday, accusing CP Rail of threatening unionized U.S. train crews who work on both sides of the border with disciplinary action if they refuse to cross Canadian picket lines.

Dennis Pierce, the president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, also said he is being told American locomotive engineers are being forced to operate trains carrying hazardous materials over Canadian routes they aren’t familiar with.

“This blatant disregard for the safety of BLET’s membership and the general public must stop,” Pierce said in a statement.

CP Rail did not immediately comment on the U.S. union’s claims.

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