Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. rail employees are back on the job, but one labour relations expert says it could take weeks before matters are settled between the country’s second-largest railway and the union representing 3,000 conductors, engineers, train and yard workers.
CP Rail and Teamsters Canada Rail Conference announced early Tuesday that they have agreed to final and binding arbitration to end a work stoppage that began on the weekend.
“Given the high profile of this company, the arbitration process will probably be fast-tracked, but we’re not talking days, we’re talking weeks,” said Robert Hickey, a labour and employment professor at Queen’s University, in an interview.
He also said CP Rail is well aware of the importance and need to manage labour relations and bring the dispute to a quick settlement, as it waits for approval from a U.S. regulator on its merger with U.S. railway Kansas City Southern.
“Labour relations is a key component of being a competitive player in this marketplace,” he said.
Marina Sampson, who leads the litigation and alternative dispute resolution group in Toronto for Dentons, also suggests that the ongoing review of the CP Rail-Kansas City Southern deal may have been a factor in getting a quick agreement on binding arbitration.
“Labour relations at the railway would doubtless be something that the board will be aware of and be watching closely,” she said in an interview.
CP Rail acquired Kansas City Southern for US$31 billion in December — creating the first Canada-U.S.-Mexico rail network — that is subject to final approval by U.S. transportation regulator, expected later this year.
In a statement early Tuesday morning, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference spokesperson Dave Fulton said while binding arbitration was not the preferred method, the union was able to negotiate terms and conditions that were in the best interest of its members, with wages and pensions still stumbling blocks.
CP chief executive Keith Creel said in a statement that the railway was pleased to have reached the agreement to enter into binding arbitration, enabling it “to resume our essential services for our customers and the North American supply chain.”
The statement added CP will begin working with customers to resume normal train operations across Canada as soon as possible.
The two sides had been meeting with the help of federal mediators.
Hickey doesn’t think the Teamsters will get everything they want, nor will CP Rail, noting that oftentimes with arbitration, both parties are left unsatisfied. However, he doesn’t believe that this necessarily guarantees more strike action down the line.
“I don’t think this will create a secure path of continued conflict,” he said. “These two have an ongoing relationship that certainly has its share of disputes during contract renewal bargaining, but they also know how to reach settlements and get back to work.”
CP Rail shut down operations on Sunday just after midnight. A few hours later, Teamsters issued a statement saying the employees were locked out but were also on strike.
Industry groups had been pressing Ottawa to introduce back-to-work legislation to end the work stoppage.
Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan said in a statement that the outcome “is further evidence that when employers and unions work together, we get the best results for Canadians and our economy.”
“This is what I was hoping for,” he added in an interview from Calgary. “The important thing is the trains are running today.”
O’Regan also said that when the dust from this recent negotiation and strike settles, it may be time for the government to look at finding a way to bring more certainty to future contract talks. There have been multiple rail strikes in the last decade at both CP Rail and Canadian National Railway Co.
But O’Regan said he’s not bullish on the idea of making rail an essential service because that takes away the rights of workers to bargain.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2022.
With files from Mia Rabson.