Canadian Pacific Railway’s engineers, conductors, yardmen and rail traffic controllers have taken strike action.
The workers went on strike early Wednesday morning after last-minute negotiations before the midnight deadline failed.
Pensions are at the heart of the dispute between the company and its workers. CP said it needs to make changes to post-retirement benefits to bring them into line with its railway peers.
The company said it has made $1.9 billion of solvency-deficit contributions to its pension plan over the past three years. CP said its proposed changes would still leave workers with guaranteed pension payments that exceed what the union has already agreed to for the majority of its members at another major Canadian railway.
The Teamsters said in a statement on its website the same day that at issue are “work rules, fatigue management, and the pension plan, which the employer wants to cut by 40 per cent.”
The railway said its offer is fair and it’s willing to enter binding arbitration with the union. Should a strike occur, Canadian Pacific said it will “proceed with a safe and structured shut down” of train operations across the country.
The Mining Association of Canada, said the strike poses “a threat to the stability of a stalwart of the Canadian economy,” as it moves through the post-recession recovery.
The Canadian mining industry accounts for more than 50 per cent of the freight revenues of Canada’s rail system yearly, the association said.
It and Teck Coal said they hopet he federal government to act quickly to resolve the labour dispute.
“A strike by CP workers will have a serious effect on the industry,” Pierre Gratton, Mining Association of Canada CEO, said in a statement.
“The shipment of fuel and other supplies to mine sites will be compromised as is the transport of mineral products.”
Marcia Smith, spokeperson for Teck Coal agreed. “We have stockpiles so the strike shouldn’t have too much of an effect on the Elk Valley mines if it doesn’t go on too long,” she said on Wednesday morning.
“But the situation is very fluid and we are not sure how it will unfold. We are watching closely. We are anxious for a resolution and very glad to hear that Canadian Labour Minister, Lisa Raitt, is making it her top priority to reach one.
“CP is a very important part of our operations.”
The CP rail strike will cause a shortfall of essential fuel and supply shipments to mines across Canada and also prevent mines from delivering their products to their end-point destinations, according to the mining group.
The TCRC-represented employees announced April 26 that they had voted 95 per cent in favour of possible strike action. The workers’ most recent contracts expired Dec. 31, 2011.