WINNIPEG – Grain shippers are calling on CP Rail and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) to accelerate their negotiations to avoid a work stoppage, including agreement by both parties to binding arbitration if a deal is not imminent. A disruption in rail service would have a devastating impact on the entire agriculture value-chain after suffering through drought, wildfires, flooding, blockades, COVID regulations, record snowfall and extended periods of cold weather this past year. CP train conductors and engineers will be in a strike position with 72 hours’ notice, or they could be locked out by CP management.
“Despite this year’s 35% smaller than average crop due to drought, the railways have struggled to meet even half of our weekly demands for rail service the past few months,” said Wade Sobkowich, Executive Director of the Western Grain Elevators Association. “This imminent work stoppage at CP would take the situation from terrible to catastrophic, crippling the flow of goods throughout the Canadian economy.” Sobkowich added that factors such as drought and flooding cannot be easily avoided, but Canada must find a permanent solution to disruptions within its control, such as rail work stoppages.
Grain elevators situated on CP lines are beholden to a monopoly service provider and do not have any competitive options in shipping grain to flour mills, grain processing facilities and feedlots both domestically and internationally. Rail service is essential to get grain off the Prairies to customers and ports across North America and globally. Serious challenges with rail service have resulted in irreparable damage to Canada’s reputation with its customers, and are adding to inflationary pressures on food prices both here at home and abroad.
“CP management and the TCRC need to recognize that their actions will have serious consequences across Canada if a work stoppage occurs and the impacts will be felt mostly by Canadian consumers at the grocery store, both in terms of price and supply,” added Sobkowich. “The world needs Canada’s grain now more than ever, and it is unconscionable that anyone would leverage the current domestic and global circumstances to benefit their individual interests.” The WGEA is imploring that both parties agree to complete the negotiations in good faith, or agree to binding arbitration to avoid a work stoppage. If they will not, the WGEA says it is imperative that the federal government step in and impose a process for a fair and reasonable resolution.
The WGEA is an association of grain businesses operating in Canada which collectively handle in excess of 95% of western Canada’s bulk grain exports. Its members account for roughly one fifth of bulk railway revenue in Canada and pay annual total freight of over one billion dollars.