Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. faces a possible work stoppage by more than 3,000 train engineers, conductors and yard workers on April 21 after union members authorized strike action as contract talks drag on.
A walkout by members of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference would be a blow to the railway’s efforts to clear an industry-wide freight backlog that has angered grain companies, farmers and other commodity shippers and drawn rebukes from governments in Canada and the United States.
The union said in a statement that 94 per cent of members who voted approved the strike action. The train crews have been without a contract since the beginning of 2018 and have been in talks since November. CP is demanding “cuts and concessions” despite posting rising profit, the union said.
“Despite our best efforts to negotiate in good faith, we have come to a point where Teamsters are prepared to go on strike for the third time in six years to obtain a fair and reasonable contract renewal,” said Doug Finnson, president of TCRC.
“We remain optimistic that we can come to an agreement – with the assistance of Federal Mediation Conciliation Services (FMCS) – in the very near future,” CP said in a statement over the weekend. “That said, despite our best efforts and commitment to fair, equitable and early bargaining, a significant gap remains.”
Talks between the two sides are scheduled in Calgary for the week of April 16, said Christopher Monette, a spokesman for TCRC. “We’re serious when we say we want to get to a negotiated settlement,” Mr. Monette said by phone.
Keith Creel, CP’s chief executive officer since early in 2017, has said that one of his main goals is to improve the fractious relations between the company and its largest union. When he took charge after his predecessor Hunter Harrison quit, Mr. Creel altered the company’s disciplinary policy and held meetings with employees in a stated effort to smooth “some feathers that have been ruffled.”
However, there are signs that the union has not forgotten the layoffs and turmoil that came with Mr. Harrison’s efforts to slash costs. Mr. Creel’s vow to replace striking train operators with managers and his successful push for legislation that allows the company access to in-cab cameras have done little to reduce tensions.
The Teamsters union has staged two strikes at CP since 2012. Members in November rejected Mr. Creel’s offer of a one-year contract extension that he said was intended to give both sides time to “build some trust.”
A Globe and Mail investigation of CP published last year revealed a workplace that employees described as toxic, marked by harsh disciplinary measures and firings for seemingly minor transgressions.
The Teamsters in March reached a tentative agreement with CP rival Canadian National Railway Co. covering 1,700 locomotive engineers.
CP, CN and the major U.S. railways are under pressure from governments and customers for poor service that has reduced exports and slowed or halted production at some factories. The railways blame a rise in freight volumes and a winter that has been harsher than usual in some regions. Shippers point to poor planning, railway layoffs and cost cuts.