Federal government orders end to CP Rail strike
Published Monday, May 28, 2012 9:29PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 11, 2012 6:15PM EDT
Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has tabled back-to-work legislation to end a strike by 4,800 Canadian Pacific Railway employees.
"Simply put, the strike can't go on," Raitt told the House of Commons on Monday, adding that the government must preserve Canada's reputation as an international business partner.
"The work stoppage is preventing our ability to keep products moving in and out of Canada and that undermines Canada's reputation as a reliable place to do business," she said.
Raitt said she expects the railroad to be back in business by Thursday.
Raitt had signalled last week that the government was poised to step in if the union and company couldn't reach a deal, saying the strike could cost the Canadian economy $540 million per week, as products such as wheat, coal and potash fail to reach their destinations.
"Although our economy is still recovering, it is still fragile and we have to ask whether or not for the nation's good we can allow this work stoppage at CP Rail to continue," Raitt said in Parliament Monday.
She said hundreds of businesses are being negatively affected, many Canadians are being inconvenienced.
Raitt told CTV's Power Play Monday that one of the driving factors behind her decision to introduce the legislation were the phone calls she received from automotive plants in southern Ontario. The plants would likely have begun closing this week because they were only prepared to handle seven days of a strike.
Talks broke down Sunday afternoon between the Teamsters Canada union representatives and management from CP. Both sides rejected a proposal made by a government-appointed mediator.
Raitt said that decision by both parties was another motivating factor.
"So I knew there was not going to be a deal, there was not going to be a voluntary arbitration at that point," she said, "and then taking a look at the economic issues, it made it quick learning in terms of how we proceeded this morning."
Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair accused the government of working to "reduce workers' rights" by siding with employers in labour disputes.
"The Conservatives are setting a record for back-to-work legislation and they are also giving a pattern to employers: ‘don't bother negotiating,'" he told Power Play. "What possible incentive exists to an employer who knows that the final result will always be that the Conservatives are going to bring in special legislation to vote people back to work? So they have no incentive to deal in good faith, to bargain in good faith."
The 4,800 workers began a legal strike last Wednesday, walking off the job and shutting down CP's freight service across the country.
Doug Finnson, vice-president of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, said Monday after Raitt's announcement that he believes the employer has been counting on the government to step in.
"The talks didn't really go anywhere and I don't believe they were going to go anywhere. I think CP was always going to rely on the government to act," Finnson said.
Pensions, health spending accounts and fatigue management are the key issues in negotiations. If the employer would remove its planned changes to the pension plan, Finnson said, a deal would likely be achieved.
CP has said the company needs to make changes in order to remain profitable. But the union accuses management of clawing back a pension program employees have worked for years to build, while managers are scheduled for increases to their own pension program.
"The company is hiding behind the usual excuse: i.e. that the company should be more and more profitable. Meanwhile, the workers suffer the consequences," said Teamsters Canada President Robert Bouvier in a news release.
In its own statement on Sunday, CP said it was "disappointed" that a negotiated settlement couldn't be reached to end the "unnecessary" strike.
"While the parties met this weekend, the federal mediator withdrew from the negotiations this afternoon, and the talks between CP and the TCRC ended," said the statement issued Sunday by Ian MacKay, vice-president of customer service.
"CP is disappointed that a negotiated settlement was not reached, and will co-operate with any decision by the minister of labour and Parliament."
Raitt said CP Rail employees shouldn't be surprised by the government's intervention. In the past 10 labour disputes involving Canada's major railways, the federal government has intervened each and every time to legislate employees back to work, she said last week.
She said the proposed legislation sets up a process for an arbitrator to put together a collective agreement within 90 days.
Raitt has also intervened in recent labour disputes at Air Canada and Canada Post. In each case, she has said a strike would inconvenience Canadians and harm the economy.