Canadian Pacific union dismisses threat of more layoffs

The union for striking Canadian Pacific Railway workers today dismissed the company's threat that the dispute will lead to more layoffs.
Striking Canadian Pacific Railway workers picket outside the company's Port Coquitlam yard east of Vancouver on Wednesday. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The union for striking Canadian Pacific Railway workers today dismissed the company’s threat that the dispute will lead to more layoffs.

Calling the "threats" of layoffs "normal procedure" during negotiations, Stephane Lacroix, director of communications for Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), told CBC News the ongoing talks "are not ugly at all."

"We will stay at the negotiations table and we won't quit," he said.

On Wednesday, CP said the walkout by 4,800 workers means the services of thousands of other employees won't be needed.

"Unfortunately, with this unnecessary strike by the Teamsters, more than 2,000 other unionized CP employees will not be required and are being laid off," said CP spokesman Ed Greenberg.

"We expect this to grow by another 1,400 employees as their work, related to the operations of the railroad, is no longer required."

Greenberg said the layoffs could affect those who work in the yard, engineering and mechanical areas — essentially anyone who isn't needed when trains aren't running.

Back-to-work legislation a possibility

Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has raised the prospect of introducing legislation to force an end to the two-day-old stoppage.

"CP's management needs to understand that hiding behind the federal government is not going to resolve things," said TCRC vice-president Doug Finnson.

"Workers' health and safety and pensions are serious issues and they [the employer] would be wrong not to settle them."

"We want to create the atmosphere where they can do a deal on their own," Raitt told reporters.

"But they have to be aware of the fact that the Canadian government will step in on the basis of the national economy and the greater public interest at some point."

A prolonged strike would cost the Canadian economy an estimated $540 million a week, Raitt said, calling that figure "conservative."

At the same time, Saskatchewan added its voice to those urging the federal government to move quickly with back to work legislation if there are no successful negotiations within hours.

The province's Energy and Resources Minister, Bill Boyd, said each day the strike drags on will have a significant impact.

Boyd said agriculture producers need the railway to move crops.

He said a prolonged strike could hurt potash sales dramatically because the railway is needed to export product around the world.

 The federal New Democrats say federal intervention is unacceptable and that the dispute should only be resolved through negotiation.   

On Thursday, the Grain Growers of Canada wrote an open letter to Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair asking for his party's support in imposing back-to-work legislation.   

"We do recognize and appreciate your party's concern for labour rights, a fair process for resolving collective agreements and for negotiating tactics up to and including the right to strike," the group said.   

"However, disruptions to rail service directly impact farm families and farm income.

Farmers have just incurred huge costs for seed, fertilizer, fuel and the other inputs needed to put a crop in the ground and those bills are due very soon. Farmers count on delivering some of their grain at this time of year for that cash flow."

With files from The Canadian Press