CP Rail strike stops freight; government may step in

Wed May 23, 2012 6:53pm EDT
 
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By Susan Taylor

TORONTO (Reuters) - Locomotive engineers and conductors at Canadian Pacific Railway walked off the job on Wednesday after contract talks broke down, shutting down freight operations on Canada's second-biggest railroad.

As some customers began seeking alternatives to move autos, grain, coal and other goods, the Canadian government said it may introduce back-to-work legislation as early as next Monday if the strike drags on and harms the economy.

The company and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, whose 4,800 engineers, conductors and traffic controllers represent nearly a third of CP Rail's workforce, resumed talks on Wednesday morning after a fruitless late-night session.

The Conservative government, quick to intervene in other labor disputes over the past year, said it hopes legislation is not needed, because the two sides are close a deal.

Labor Minister Lisa Raitt said a decision on when to intervene would depend on how the strike affects the Canadian economy. She projected that it would cost C$540 million ($525 million) in economic activity each week.

Raitt said the two parties, who remain far apart on pension issues, can keep negotiating or agree to enter a 120-day mediation process with a federally appointed arbitrator.

"My sense is that it's getting more difficult, more constrained," Raitt told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Still, Raitt's willingness to give the two sides more time contrasts with the speed with which she acted to get Air Canada employees back to work in their recent disputes with the country's largest airline.   Continued...

 
Picketers stand at the entrance to the CP Rail yards in Coquitlam, British Columbia May 23, 2012. Locomotive engineers and conductors at Canadian Pacific Railway walked off the job on Wednesday after contract talks broke down, shutting down freight operations on Canada's second-biggest railroad. REUTERS/Andy Clark