By Paul Vieira

A potential strike at Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Kansas City is unlikely to start on the planned date of May 22, as the national labor-relations board says it needs more than a week to rule on whether the railroads must transport certain goods due to health and safety concerns.

Canada Industrial Relations Board said Monday it needs to hear input from the Canadian railroads, the Teamsters Canada union and other parties, and is willing to accept written submissions until the end of the business day on May 21. That indicates there would be no ruling ahead of May 22, or the original date that the Teamsters Canada union--representing 9,000 workers at the railroads, among them train conductors, locomotive engineers and railyard employees--said a simultaneous strike could begin at both railroads in the event negotiations to renew three collective agreements fail to produce accords.

Under Canada's labor laws, a strike cannot start until the board issues a decision.

Canadian Labor Minister Seamus O'Regan last week triggered the board's review, after filing a request due to concerns about the potential effects to health and safety from a strike at both railroads. "It's our duty to look into this," he said.

One example is the shipment of propane, which is used in rural communities as a home-heating source, and by farmers to dry oilseeds, sunflowers, nuts, vegetables or fruits to increase yields and reduce storage losses.

In a notice issued Monday, the board is asking for information about propane shipments on both Canadian National and CPKC, and "what alternatives, if any, [the railroads'] clients have for the delivery of such products."

From Canadian National, the board is also seeking information about shipments of heavy fuel, food, and chemicals used at water-treatment plants in remote communities and across the country.

The Teamsters Canada union said it would comply with any order from the labor-relations board, although noting members' right to withdraw services is now frozen until the board issues a decision. "The time required for the process to complete is virtually impossible to predict," the union said in an update to members. "This recent development is incredibly frustrating, and we believe undermines the entire process."

Union leadership has said the companies' proposals to date would strip out important safety provisions for members, such as a rest period between shifts. The union has disputed claims by the companies that they are offering predictable work schedules. The railroads "want to push the availability of their employees more and more," said Paul Boucher, president of the Teamsters Canada rail unit.

Spokesmen for the two railroads said they are seeking to resolve bargaining issues in a timely manner. Canadian National said the union has rejected an offer that provided significant wage increases and scheduling certainty. CPKC said it is committed to reaching a deal that incorporates higher pay and an improved work-life balance, adding its offers to date "do not in any way compromise safety."

Danielle Smith, the premier of the resource-rich province of Alberta, said Monday the Canadian government must be prepared to use all options--including back-to-work legislation--in the event of a simultaneous strike at both Canadian National and CPKC. O'Regan, the Labor Minister, has ruled out the use of such legislation.

"Shutting down both railways concurrently would bring our economy to a halt, put Canadians from coast to coast at unacceptable risk, and cause even more damage to Canada's reputation as a reliable trading partner," said Smith, in a letter she said she sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Write to Paul Vieira at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

05-13-24 1447ET