© Ketian Chen

Final submissions to the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) reveal neither rail companies nor union believe “essential services” will be disrupted by a strike, which could pave the way for action. 

On 14 June, the CIRB took final submissions from Canadian National (CN), Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC), the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) and other affected organisations, to make a final decision on whether a strike should be allowed to go ahead. 

In the submission documents, shared with The Loadstar, both rail operators and the union conclude that rail services could not be deemed as essential.  

CN said: “A work stoppage at CN would not cause an immediate and serious threat to the safety or health of the public. The reality is that there are alternative modes of transportation for all of the commodities addressed by the affected parties.” 

Submissions arguing that a strike would cause immediate risk to public safety came from industries affiliated with named “essential” products.  

TCRC said: “We note that the only parties speaking on behalf of the remote communities alleged to be in dire straits without propane are not those communities themselves, but industry associations with financial interests in averting a strike. 

“Very few, if any, of the submissions provide specific details…They are, frankly, all over the place.” 

Additionally, both CN and CPKC submitted that neither can operate their respective railways with “only essential goods”, including propane and grain, and any operation by either railway must be an “all or nothing” proposition. 

This is due to network configuration making it difficult to only operate certain commodities on certain routes. Challenges cited were the movement of parked carriages off tracks, which would lead to congested railyards and an increase in the likelihood of collisions and derailment.   

However, TCRC said: “If the board decides that there are some services that must be continued at a certain level…  it should not accept the companies’ all or nothing arguments because to do so would be to violate the rights of the TCRC and its members to exercise their right to strike.”  

Meanwhile, some stakeholders, including CN and CPKC, requested a 30-day “cooling off period” before a strike, currently only 72 hours is required.  

The rail operators argued that 30 days was “critical to mitigate risks to health and safety by allowing them to properly halt transportation of potentially dangerous products and adjust their production accordingly”.  

“It will also reduce economic harm by providing customers with sufficient time to arrange for alternate transportation for their commodities,” said CN. 

But the union claimed a 30-day cooling off period would further compromise the rights of the TCRC and its members in both bargaining units.  

“Each company knew, prior to the minister’s ill-timed and unnecessary referrals, when a labour dispute could have happened. This is another suspicious strategy employed by the companies. The normal operation should prevail once the board has issued its decision(s).” 

The CIRB process does not impact continued bargaining with the TCRC union, however, the involved parties have failed to see eye-to-eye at every possible juncture, and the union has vowed to go on strike at its earliest opportunity. 

The TCRC union had called for industrial action against rail operators CN and CPKC after five months of unsuccessful negotiations.   

A strike was planned for 22 May, set to disrupt Canada’s entire rail network for both passenger and freight, unless a deal was reached, but a request from the government for the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) to “review if a strike could cause an immediate threat to public safety” put this on pause.   

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