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May 26, 2018

Potential CP strike is latest blow to Canada's rail backlog

CP Rail work stoppage threat looms

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Thousands of workers at Canada’s second-largest railway could walk off the job as early as Tuesday, adding to the transport woes that have stranded commodities across the nation’s Prairies.

More than 3,000 of Canadian Pacific Railway train conductors, engineers and electrical workers represented by Teamsters Canada and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers could walk off the job as early as Tuesday at 10 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time if a negotiated settlement isn’t reached, according to a Teamsters Canada statement Saturday. Teamsters members voted 98.1 per cent to reject the company’s final offer on Friday.

“CP is offering more of the same contract language that workers just voted to reject a few hours ago,” Doug Finnson, president of Teamsters Canada, said in the statement. “The company clearly isn’t serious about reaching a negotiated settlement.”

A call for comment to Canadian Pacific outside of normal business hours wasn’t immediately returned.

RAIL CAPACITY 

The uncertainty over a possible labour disruption comes after a lack of adequate rail capacity led to piles of commodities being stuck on Canada’s Prairies this winter, including grain, oil and lumber.

A potential work stoppage that lasts even a week could cause "serious financial consequences" for grain shippers, said Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Western Grain Elevator Association, which represents the nation’s largest exporters, including Richardson International and Viterra Inc. Exporters are already facing reputational damage from last winter’s capacity shortage and a strike could be another service failure to explain to customers, he said.

"To have zero movement on one of our two major railways in Canada is a very big deal," Sobkowich said Saturday by phone. "I can tell you the longer it goes on, the greater the impact will be.”

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