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Deadline Approaches for Canadian Rail Labor Strike Decision

Deadline Approaches for Canadian Rail Labor Strike Decision

TCRC is preparing a new strike vote as the current mandate expires, while CIRB evaluates the impact of a potential Canadian rail strike.

The Canadian rail labor union, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), is preparing to hold a new rail labor strike vote as the current mandate for industrial action expires on June 30. This decision comes ahead of the June 14 submission deadline to the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) regarding the potential strike’s impact.

The Canadian Press reported that a rail strike could have a major impact on Canada’s manufacturers, leading to increased expenses, reduced sales, and delayed shipments.

In May, about 9,300 unionized conductors, train operators, and engineers at Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) voted to approve a strike that would have started as early as May 22.

However, the federal labor minister sent the issue to the CIRB, which has delayed any legal strike or lockout until the board makes a decision. The timeline for this decision remains unclear.

Under Canadian labor law, the strike mandate from May will expire on June 30. To be ready for a possible strike once the CIRB reaches its decision, TCRC will conduct a new strike ballot from June 14 to June 29.

Updates on the negotiations

The railroads and the TCRC are having trouble agreeing on salary and mandatory rest periods.

Last week’s negotiations between TCRC and CN ended abruptly, with the union accusing CN of refusing to consider their demands. TCRC had proposed two weeks of talks with CN and CPKC to minimize disruptions and address concerns more effectively.

However, both rail operators rejected the proposal, which TCRC President Paul Boucher criticized as a clear indication of their unwillingness to negotiate and a disregard for the economy and supply chain.

In response, CN suggested mandatory mediation, where an independent arbitrator would decide the terms of the new collective agreement. The union rejected this process, arguing that CN attempted to undermine their right to strike and avoid negotiating in good faith.

When could a rail labor strike start?

As the CIRB continues to work on reaching a decision, the deadline for affected industry trade groups to submit their input has been extended to June 14. Once the decision is issued, TCRC must provide 72 hours’ notice before initiating a strike.

The rail carriers have requested a 30-day extension from the CIRB starting from the decision date, which, if granted, would further delay the strike. They estimate that a strike will begin in mid-to-late July.

The potential impact of a rail labor strike

A strike could disrupt services to and from all containerized marine terminals in Canada, impacting approximately 50,000 TEUs per week in imports, according to the Journal of Commerce. It could force longer production limitations or plant shutdowns. Even after the potential strike ends, it may take weeks for normal operations to resume.

The uncertainty surrounding the potential rail labor strike is already impacting Canadian chemical, fertilizer, and other manufacturers. Canadian chemical producers rely on rail to ship over 70% of their products, with some exclusively using rail. In the fertilizer industry, approximately 75% of all products are transported by rail.

An analysis by S&P Global warned that while the Canadian government may prioritize energy supplies and food as critical, the automotive sector and other consumer goods may not receive the same consideration.

As a result, many stakeholders will depend on alternative transport networks to mitigate the impact, leading to congestion in Canadian and northern U.S. ports and rail systems.

If you ship goods via rail and would like to discuss your options should a strike happen, please reach out to one of our trade professionals.


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