By Paul Vieira

OTTAWA--Canada's Liberal government has asked the federal labor-relations board to review whether the country's two main railroads must continue to transport certain goods in the event of a possible strike later this month.

The referral by Canada's Labor Minister, Seamus O'Regan, could potentially delay the start of a possible strike by over 9,000 members of Teamsters Canada at Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Kansas City. Over 90% of union members voted last week in favor of a strike, which could begin as early as May 22. The union is in talks to renew three collective bargaining agreements among the two railroads.

O'Regan filed the request late Thursday. "Serious concerns have been raised about potential impacts to the health and safety of Canadians" from a simultaneous strike at both railroads, O'Regan wrote on X. "It's our duty to look into this."

Canada's labor laws allow the government to ask the Canada Industrial Relations Board whether certain services should be maintained during a strike, "to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public." A Canadian official said the planned strike at the railroads could be delayed should the board fail to deliver a ruling by May 22.

The official said O'Regan had heard of concerns from various constituencies about the effect of a strike and the delivery of certain goods. One example the official cited was 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.

A spokesman for Teamsters Canada said union leadership is reviewing the minister's referral. "We will obviously comply with any order from the Canada Industrial Relations Board, should any safety-critical needs be identified," the spokesman said.

Representatives for the two railroads didn't immediately provide comment on the matter.

Business groups warn a strike involving CN and CPKC would trigger major disruptions in the supply-chain network. "It would be very, very bad for manufacturers," said Dennis Darby, head of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, "because of how much of our goods, parts and ingredients travel by rail. We don't have a lot of spare capacity in the transportation system in Canada."

Pedro Farah, chief financial officer at Nutrien, the Canada-based fertilizer producer, said the company is making contingency plans ahead of a potential railroad strike. "But if there is a labor disruption, we could see an impact on second-quarter sales volumes," he said during an earnings call this week.

O'Regan last week said the government had no intention to use back-to-work legislation to bring an end to the railroad strike, should it unfold later this month. "I am serious when I say that the best deals are made at the table. They have to be made at the table," he said.

O'Regan didn't introduce back-to-work legislation during a two-week strike at Canada's Pacific Coast ports last summer. Authorities estimate that strike reduced Canada's gross domestic product by nearly $1 billion Canadian dollars, or the equivalent of US$730 million.

Write to Paul Vieira at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

05-10-24 1139ET