Montreal, QC — Canadian Pacific Rail’s more than 3,000 train operators walked off the job late Tuesday night while a second group of workers reached a tentative contract settlement with the rail company.
The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference said its workers walked out at 10 p.m. EDT as negotiations continued with the assistance of federal mediators.
That announcement came just minutes after CP Rail said a tentative deal had been reached with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for 360 signalling workers who were also poised to walk off the job at 10 p.m.
The Teamsters said the strike by its members began despite “best efforts to reach a negotiated settlement,” adding it is “willing to remain at the bargaining table during the strike.”
It also said commuter train services in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver are operated by Bombardier, not Canadian Pacific, and Teamster members who operate trains in those cities are Bombardier employees and will not go on strike.
As a result, said the Teamsters, commuter train services would not be affected by the walkout.
Via, however, had already cancelled passenger rail service starting Tuesday morning in Ontario between Sudbury and White River.
CP Rail has said it will use qualified management staff to handle signalling and switching tasks so trains can continue to operate.
However, the strike could force the railroad to shut down its freight service at a particularly bad time for grain farmers. Shippers had said they expected talks would fail, resulting in the third CP Rail strike since 2012.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier in the day that the federal government would not be rushed into introducing back-to-work legislation, preferring instead to employ various levers to motivate both sides to reach a settlement.
Trudeau also said his government would not do as the Conservatives did and favour employers.
“Quite frankly, we have companies that have gotten used to the fact that in certain industries, the government in the past was very quick to legislate against unions,” Trudeau said during a conference in Toronto.
“We are not going to do that.”
If eventually forced to intervene, said Trudeau, the Liberal government won’t be giving the advantage to employers.
Even before the strike began, the livelihoods of Canadian grain farmers were already threatened because shipping was severely disrupted over the past winter due to extreme cold.
“You always hope for a miracle but we’re pretty sure there’s going to be a stoppage,” said Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, which represents the country’s largest exporters.
He said there was little that could be done to prepare other than to notify farmers that deliveries will have to be rescheduled and tell overseas customers they could receive late shipments.
“We’re just coming off of a year where we had poor rail service even though we didn’t have a work stoppage and we are trying to maintain relationships with our customers,” he added.
The train operators voted 94 per cent in favour of strike action to back their contract demands in early April and voted 98 per cent to reject CP’s final offer last Friday.
Both unions gave the railway notice over the weekend that they plan to walk off the job to support contract demands.