Shipper fears resurface as Canadian rail workers renew vote for strike


Shippers are planning for supply chain disruption this month, after Canadian rail workers affiliated with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) voted overwhelmingly to re-authorise strike action – and say they will walk out at the earliest opportunity. 

The union announced over the weekend that 10,000 workers at rail operators CN and CPKC voted, with 98.6% in favour of strike authorisation. The vote result is valid for 60 days.  

Strike action had previously been authorised for 22 May, but a government request to the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) on 19 May – to determine if rail services could be deemed as essential, and thus a strike would endanger public health – put this on pause

This also meant the 1 May strike ballot expired today.  

“Because of the delay at the CIRB, the union had to take the unusual step of asking members to reauthorise strike action,” explained the TCRC. If the CIRB decides the service is not essential, a strike can take place with just 72 hours warning.  

In submission documents to the board, shared with The Loadstar, both rail operators and the union claim rail services cannot be deemed as essential.   

And while the CIRB decision process timeline is unknown, one large shipper told The Loadstar it was planning for supply chain disruption from mid-July.  

Meanwhile, the CIRB process does not affect continued bargaining, but the parties have failed to see eye to eye and are unlikely to reach agreement before the event of a strike.  

The TCRC said: “Workers are on the defensive in these negotiations, with both companies demanding a wide range of concessions on issues pertaining to crew scheduling, hours of work and fatigue management. The stumbling blocks are company demands – not union proposals.” 

The union had called for industrial action against CN and CPKC after five months of unsuccessful negotiations following the expiration of the previous agreement in December.     

It added on Saturday: “Hit by labour shortages, both CN and CPKC are trying to squeeze more availability out of train crews… Compromising on safety or threatening to tear families apart for months are not solutions to staffing problems. CN and CPKC should instead be looking to improve working conditions and adopt a more humane approach to railroading.” 

Global director of intelligence for risk intelligence firm Everstream Analytics Mirko Woitzik has previously told The Loadstar: “Companies should expect widespread disruptions to rail and ocean shipping across many industries, as well as potential production stoppages due to increased cargo backlog.  

“In addition to more imminent rail disruptions, CN and CPKC support intermodal cargo services at all Canadian container marine terminals, which could exacerbate port congestion throughout the country,” he added.  

In the event of a rail strike, affected ports would include the ports of Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Montreal, and Halifax.