CP Rail union members begin picketing in Calgary

Dozens of members of the union representing employees of Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway, were out picketing in Calgary on Sunday due to the early morning shutdown. 

Bill Merriman, a locomotive engineer and president of the local chapter of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), said members were hopeful that CP and the union would reach a negotiation soon. 

“[Our members] understand what the issues are,” said Merriman. 

“They’re not thrilled about it, but I mean sometimes it’s a necessary evil, short term pain for long term gain.” 

TCRC members were picketing at both the CP Alyth yard off of Ogden Dale Road S.E. and the CP intermodal terminal off of 52 street S.E.

While Merriman said he knows that industries relying on CP rail will suffer from the shutdown, he also wants the public to understand the reasons TCRC members called for a strike in the first place. 

“I’m on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year ⁠— I have no idea when I’m leaving and when I’m getting home and I’m also away from my family 80 to 110 hours a week,” said Merriman. 

“I understand that it hurts the Canadian economy, that these people are suffering, but unfortunately, when you have a company that doesn’t want to negotiate in good faith, this is the end result.” 

Bill Merriman says that members of TCRC are committed to walking the picket lines for as long as it takes until the CP rail and the union can come to an agreement. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

TCRC issued a release just before midnight on Saturday saying a lockout was being initiated by management at the Calgary-based railway.

The union then issued a subsequent release that said in addition to the lockout, TCRC members were also on strike throughout the country, with picketing underway at various Canadian Pacific locations.

Canadian Pacific spokesperson Patrick Waldron said that as a result of the work stoppage, the railway was safely executing a Canada-wide shutdown of its services.

The office of federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan said in a statement that while the work stoppage had begun, both parties were still at the bargaining table with mediators and it expected “the parties to keep working until they reach an agreement.”

The more than two dozen outstanding issues in the dispute include wages, benefits and pensions.

Alberta farmers concerned

Bob Lowe is the president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s association and runs Bear Trap Feeders, a feedlot near Nanton, Alta. He said that operations like his have mere weeks of feed reserves before their animals begin to go hungry. 

“You’re going to see a lot of hurt if [the shutdown] lasts two weeks,” he said. 

Because of last year’s drought, many Alberta farmers couldn’t grow enough feed to meet their needs locally. 

“So the whole feeding industry, which is somewhere north of a million head of cattle right now on feed, are relying on corn [and dried distiller’s grains] coming out from the United States,” said Lowe. 

He said that in the result of a rail shutdown, no number of truck shipments would be able to make up the difference. 

“It seems funny to me that of all the black swan events that we’ve had in the last two years, the one that could be the most devastating is human-caused,” said Lowe.   

Bob Lowe, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, says Canadian cattle farmers are heavily relying on getting feed from the U.S. by train, because last year’s drought created a huge shortage in Canada. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Tom Steve, general manager of the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions, said crop farmers will also feel swift impacts from the shutdown if it isn’t resolved quickly. 

“The timing is really bad, particularly for farmers coming out of the worst drought in 20 years. A lot of them are short of cash flow. And if they can’t move that last bit of crop in a timely fashion, that’s going to affect their ability to finance the crop,” he said.

Steve said he’s concerned that some farmers may not be able to receive necessary crop inputs, like fertilizer. 

“In this particular circumstance [farmers] may not be able to access all the products that they need to to actually nourish the crop and bring it to market.”

The shutdown, on top of rising commodity prices and drought risks, are making the upcoming season an unstable one for farmers. 

“This will probably be the most expensive crop that is seeded in western Canadian history,” Steve said.

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