Canadian Labor Minister Urges Quick End to Railway Work Stoppage
March 20, 2022
By Brian Platt, Bloomberg
A work stoppage at one of Canada’s two largest railways must end quickly, given increased pressure on already strained supply chains, Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan said.
But O’Regan said he’s still hoping for a negotiated solution between Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, rather than legislation that would force the railway back into operation.
“Nobody’s left the table, I think that that’s incredibly important,” he said in a phone interview about the work stoppage that began early Sunday morning when a deal couldn’t be reached between the railway and the union, which represents about 3,000 of CP’s locomotive engineers and conductors.
O’Regan said both sides are “keenly aware” of the extreme pressures that are already impacting global supply chains due to the war in Europe, the Covid-19 pandemic and the natural disasters that hit Western Canada last year. Canada is, for example, the world’s largest producer of potash, with Russia and Belarus rounding out the top three.
“We have to make sure that this does not go on for very long at all,” he said. “Every day that goes by for farmers and for manufacturers in this country, particularly, is an hour or a day too long, and I think they know that.”
The government is already facing calls to step in and end the dispute quickly. Canadian Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Perrin Beatty issued a statement Sunday asking the government “to do what is best for Canada’s economy by acting now and tabling back-to-work legislation.”
“This work stoppage will have a deep and adverse impact for all Canadian businesses – both big and small - who rely on rail for their supply chain,” Beatty’s statement said, adding that it will also “harm our reputation as a reliable partner in international trade.”
But O’Regan was not prepared to give a timetable for legislating an end to the dispute.
“I firmly believe that the best deals are negotiated at the table,” O’Regan said. “They’re the longest lasting, they’re the most resilient. So I’m determined that that does happen.”
Events didn’t get off to a promising start late Saturday night, as acrimony between the two sides spilled over into announcements about the work stoppage itself. Teamsters first issued a pre-midnight news release saying it was a company-initiated lockout, and then clarified in a second release that they were also going on strike.
Read more: Canadian Pacific Rail Halts Operations After Labor Talks Fail
Canadian Pacific fired back with its own statement saying that Teamsters had withdrawn its services early and then “completely misrepresented the truth” by claiming Canadian Pacific had locked them out. “The company will be reviewing avenues to have this egregious behavior properly addressed,” the statement said.
“CP remains willing to bargain in good faith,” company spokesperson Patrick Waldron told Bloomberg News by phone on Sunday, saying his company will meet again with the federal mediator later that day. Teamsters Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for Nutrien Ltd., one of the top crop-nutrient suppliers, said that the rail service disruption “may have immediate and significant global consequences,” including “potentially reducing crop yields later in the year.”
“Nutrien relies on rail transport to move fertilizer and retail products in Canada, to the U.S., and to export ports,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We urge CP and the union to come to a speedy agreement and get goods moving again.”