Canadian Pacific Railway's engineers, conductors, yardmen and rail traffic controllers have served strike notice to take effect Wednesday at 12:01 a.m.
The 72-hour notice, announced Saturday, does not necessarily mean a strike will begin at that time, but allows up to 4,800 workers, represented by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), to walk off the job anytime after that point.
Meanwhile, CP said Saturday, the Teamsters and the company "continue to meet" with the assistance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
However, Calgary-based CP said, "in the event there is a work stoppage, CP will proceed with a safe and structured shutdown of its train operations in Canada."
"CP believes the offer it has presented the union is fair and reasonable," CP chief operations officer Mike Franczak said in a release. "We are willing to enter into binding arbitration or negotiation period extensions should an agreement not be reached at this stage."
Any extension to the bargaining process, he said, "requires consent of the union or action of the federal government."
The federal government said in a release Sunday it "is concerned that a work stoppage is being considered and is taking this situation very seriously."
"I continue to encourage (CP) and the TCRC to either reach a deal or agree to submit to a binding process to settle their dispute and avoid a work stoppage," Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said Sunday.
Raitt's statement did not suggest the CP employees could be legislated back to work. However, "a disruption of rail services would have a significantly negative impact on businesses and our national economy," she said.
Freight traffic such as grain and fertilizers "will be disrupted by the work stoppage," the union said.
"We wrote to CP yesterday indicating that we would continue operating the commuter train service on all the lines without disruption," TCRC vice-president Doug Finnson said Saturday.
"CP has written to us today indicating they will not operate commuter trains in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. We are sorry that our employer has so little consideration for travelling public."
"Even more painful"
The TCRC-represented employees announced April 26 that they had voted 95 per cent in favour of possible strike action. The workers' most recent contracts expired Dec. 31, 2011.
Major issues, the Teamsters said, include "work rules, fatigue management, and the pension plan, which the employer wants to cut by 40 per cent."
"The offer on pension aligns with the industry and allows the railway to remain competitive as we invest in strategic infrastructure upgrades along our network," CP's Franczak said Saturday.
The company said it has contributed "approximately $1.9 billion of solvency deficit contributions to its pension plan over the past three years" and "requires changes to legacy pension and post-retirement benefits to make them industry-comparable."
CP said some of its proposed options for new agreements with the affected workers "provide guaranteed pension payment that is a multiple of average Canadian industrial pension payment and exceeds what this union has already agreed to for the majority of its members at another major Canadian railway."
The Grain Growers of Canada are "calling for the government to move quickly to impose a dispute resolution process combined with immediate back-to-work legislation for (CP) railway workers, should they strike on May 23," Richard Phillips, the association's executive director, said in a separate release Monday.
"Disruptions to rail service cause immediate damage to our ability to make export sales and that means losses right back to the farm gate. It's even more painful to lose grain sales when prices are good."
The Canadian Fertilizer Institute said Monday that its member companies "are facing the combination of tight inventory supply and strong global demand for all fertilizer products. The domestic, U.S. and offshore demand for Canadian fertilizer has been very high this spring and this trend is expected to continue."
CFI members "currently have large unit trains of potash scheduled to move from Western Canada to Vancouver for export offshore, as well as various fertilizer products scheduled to move domestically and cross-border to the important U.S. market. CFI members simply cannot afford the repercussions of a rail disruption."