Any stoppage would inflict further damage on stressed supply chains, Nate Horner said
By Diego Flammini
Alberta’s minister of agriculture is asking the federal minister of labour to stop a potential railway strike before it happens.
In a March 4 letter, Nate Horner urges Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan to “implement direct measures to prevent a (Canadian Pacific) work stoppage,” Horner wrote. “Inaction will lead to negative economic consequences for Alberta and Canada, potential animal welfare issues and it would undermine both Canada’s and Alberta’s competitiveness and reputation as a reliable supplier to international customers.”
Canadian Pacific employees represented by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) voted between Feb. 1 and Feb. 28, with 96.7 per cent, voting in favour of a strike that could start by March 16.
Of the 3,062 ballots sent out, 2,960 came back supporting the work stoppage.
TCRC cites wages, benefits and pensions as the three main issues at hand.
When TCRC and CP reached an impasse in December 2021, they presented a notice of dispute to the ministry of labour.
Minister O’Regan appointed a conciliation officer from the Federal Medication and Conciliation Service to assist the two parties. Then, in February, he appointed a mediator for further support.
The cattle sector is also concerned with the potential CP strike.
As of Feb. 1, Alberta and Saskatchewan had about 1.1 million head of cattle on feed.
A work stoppage, on top of a drought and lack of feed, would harm the sector.
“It is imperative that essential services are not interrupted, including the movement of agricultural products by rail,” said Bob Lowe, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. “We're running on imported corn from the U.S. to feed the cattle herd and feedlot sector. There are different numbers of what we need a week, somewhere around eight train loads of corn a week. Just to keep us even."
And U.S. ag associations are worried about how a CP strike would affect farmers south of the border.
The Agricultural Transportation Working Group sent a letter to the Biden administration asking it to work with the Canadian government to prevent the work stoppage.
A work stoppage would reduce the flow of fertilizer into the U.S.
“A CP railway strike would severely curtail fertilizer supply and shipments into the United States and would happen at the worst possible time as farmers are planting their 2022 crops,” the letter says. “Given the fragility of current supply chains, urgent attention and engagement with all parties is needed to avert a potential strike.”
If CP employees do strike, Minister O’Regan can implement back-to-work legislation.
These pieces of legislation end strikes or lockouts by forcing a binding arbitration process or implementing a new contract without negotiations.
The federal government last used back-to-work legislation in April 2021.
Filomena Tassi, the labour minister at the time, tabled the legislation to end the one-day strike at the Port of Montreal.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce estimated that strike would’ve cost between $10 and $25 million per day.