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Arbitrator in CP Railway strike will have power to impose contract

Andy Clark/Reuters/Andy Clark/Reuters

A federally appointed arbitrator will have the power to craft a compromise at Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and impose a contract settlement.

Under Ottawa's back-to-work bill for 4,800 striking CP employees, the dispute will be sent to binding arbitration, but the process will differ from what the government decided earlier this spring to resolve the conflict between Air Canada and two of its unions.

At Air Canada, arbitrators will be positioned in late August to select the final offer of either management or the airline unions, which represent pilots and machinists.

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Ashley Kelahear, a spokeswoman for federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, said Ottawa will soon appoint an arbitrator with a mandate to break the deadlock at CP by early September.

Ms. Raitt tabled back-to-work legislation on Monday, paving the way for CP employees to return to their jobs by Thursday. The strike began May 23.

The Conservative government used its majority to limit debate, setting in motion a series of overnight votes that saw the bill passed early Wednesday morning. Fast-tracking the bill through all stages took all of Tuesday evening, with votes in the Commons carrying on after midnight. Bill C39 was eventually passed just before 1:30 a.m. It will now go to the Conservative-dominated Senate for Royal Assent.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, whose contract with CP expired on Dec. 31, 2011, represents engineers, conductors and rail traffic controllers.

Teamsters Canada vice-president Doug Finnson said CP retirees receive modest increases annually to their pensions, gaining protection on only a small portion of any hikes in the consumer price index.

But CP management said in a message to employees that contract talks broke off on Sunday after the Teamsters made an 11th-hour request for pension changes that would increase costs.

"In their final proposal, while dealing with some of the liability, they actually added additional pension cash cost burdens," wrote Peter Edwards, CP's vice-president of human resources.

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With a file from The Canadian Press

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