The union representing nearly 5,000 engineers, conductors and traffic controllers at Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) has given 72 hours’ notice of a planned strike, giving workers the right to walk off their jobs as early as May 23.
Canada's second largest railroad said it would carry on with negotiations with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, with the assistance of a federal mediator.
“(CPR) believes the offer it has presented the union is fair and reasonable. We are willing to enter into binding arbitration or negotiation period extensions should an agreement not be reached at this stage,” said CPR executive vice-president and COO Mike Franczak. “Any extension to the bargaining process requires consent of the union or action of the federal government.”
Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt issued a news release Sunday urging talks or binding arbitration rather than a work stoppage.
“A disruption of rail services would have a significantly negative impact on businesses and our national economy,” Raitt says in the release.
The release did not indicate whether Raitt planned to have the government intervene as she did to prevent job action at Air Canada and Canada Post.
Negotiations are occurring at a contentious time for CPR. The rail company is under extreme pressure to improve its operating performance, currently the worst in the industry.
On May 17, the railway's management conceded defeat in a proxy battle with New York activist shareholder William Ackman. Chief executive Fred Green and chairman John Cleghorn both quit after a boardroom coup, clearing the way for a management overhaul.
Contract talks, which began in October 2011, have not resolved issues on pensions, work rules, wages, fatigue management and work-life balance, the union says. The previous contract expired on Jan. 1.
CPR has said pension costs are hurting its operating efficiency and the company's ability to make investments that would bring growth.
It said it had made $1.9 billion in solvency deficit contributions to its pension plan over the past three years and that it must now make its pension and retirement benefits comparable with industry standards.
— with files from Reuters
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