CN Rail workers take safety concerns to Sask. legislature

A visit to the legislature by about 150 rail workers hasn't changed the stance of the provincial government that the CN Rail strike should be ended through legislation or arbitration "if there is a need."

Province wants federal government to intervene to end rail strike

John Chalmers from the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Saskatoon says the province should urge the federal government to make sure the dispute is settled through negotiations and not arbitration or legislation. (Trent Peppler/CBC)

A visit to the legislature by about 150 rail workers hasn't changed the stance of the Saskatchewan government that the CN Rail strike should be ended through legislation or binding arbitration "if there is a need."

The workers were in Regina for a 100th anniversary celebration of CN Rail but gathered at the legislative building Monday to raise concerns about safety and fatigue. 

John Chalmers, the local chairperson of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Saskatoon, told reporters the strike is not about money.

"We're here, we're out on the line because of these guys behind me. They are our family. These are my brothers, my sisters, and we don't want to see anybody not come home," said Chalmers. 

"We've had four deaths on the railroad already this year and we don't want any more. We need our members to be rested. We need them to have time off."

Chalmers wants the province to push the federal government to make sure an agreement is reached through negotiation, not legislation or arbitration. 

"They are putting the economic interests of the province first ahead of these people behind me," said Chalmers, flanked by other rail workers. 

"These are their constituents, they should be fighting for us, not fighting for a company."

But Saskatchewan trade minister Jeremy Harrison said arbitration or back-to-work legislation to end the CN rail strike should happen if "there is a need."

Jeremy Harrison says the province's economic interest in the CN rail strike is "very real." (Trent Peppler/CBC)

"Our interest as a province is that the ... rail service be resumed as quickly as possible," said Harrison.

"Ideally that would be through a negotiated agreement between the union and the company. If not, there is a mechanism for binding arbitration as well, and ultimately if there is a need to legislate an end to this work stoppage, that needs to happen."

The strike has been ongoing for eight days. Workers say they are fighting for better hours because fatigue problems are creating safety issues. The strike has left some farmers unable to move their crops and raised concerns about propane shortages in some provinces. 

Harrison said Saskatchewan's economic interests are "very real," pointing to the temporary shut-down of a Nutrien potash mine on Monday. 

Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau was also in Regina on Monday to attend the Canadian Western Agribition livestock expo.

"We are pushing both parties to come to an agreement. This would be the best for every [party] and the fastest solution as well. And we go — we evaluate and we follow the situation on a steady basis," said Bibeau. 

She said she's keeping the federal labour and transport ministers abreast of the "significant" range of impacts to farmers. 

Bibeau would not say if or when the federal government would intervene.

"Every option's always on the table. But for the time being, we hope that both parties will get to an agreement."


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