Rail Strike Part Deux? CP headed for disruption this week

OTTAWA — Weeks after getting back on track from a major CN Rail disruption in March, some shippers may soon be bracing for another strike — this time by workers at Canadian Pacific.

Talks between CP and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Maintenance of Way Employees Division (TCRC MWED) broke down late last week. The union, which has been without a contract since 2006, served the railway with 72-hour strike notice this past weekend.

About 3,200 inspectors, track builders, and maintenance workers are slated to walk on the job at 11:59 p.m. MST on Tuesday May, 15. No new talks are scheduled.

Containers heading out of the Port of Vancouver could
be stalled for the second time in as many months.

“The union has done everything that it reasonably could to avoid a strike, but it takes both parties to want a negotiated settlement,” said union President William Brehl. “Now the company has forced us to go on strike, which will be devastating to the Canadian economy.”

The two sides are locked over wages, benefits, seniority, work rules, and quality of life issues, the union says.

CP says that in addition to improved benefits and pensions, it offered workers increases of 3, 4, and 3 percent over three years, which the railway says is consistent with deals ratified by other CP unions and higher than industry averages. The union says it wants 4 percent for 2007.

A strike wouldn’t affect traffic on the railway’s main lines, CP spokesman Mark Seland told media on the weekend, but could hamper branch-line operations.

In a press release, CP Senior Vice President Brock Winter announced the company is deploying about 1,300 trained managers and other employees “to safely maintain its operations during a strike.”

The railway said it has other contingencies in place to keep freight moving, including hiring trucking carriers to take on more loads.

To what degree truckers can pick up the slack remains to be seen in some parts of the country — especially in the West — where highway capacity is tight.

The pre-strike rhetoric has begun, however. In a statement, Brehl cited a series of recent train derailments, questioning whether CN is considering public safety if it “thoughtlessly continues to try to run trains over track that has not been properly inspected or maintained.”

Furthermore, Brehl suggested that the replacement workers aren’t fit to take over the job. “All of us are extremely worried about unskilled, unqualified and inexperienced personnel out trying to perform these dangerous and necessary tasks.”

How worried? Shippers and businesses will see on Tuesday.

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