Richardson International leadership wants feds to bring in back-to-work legislation as CP rail strike looms

Union members representing Canadian Pacific Railway’s conductors and locomotive engineers have served notice they may go on strike as early as 9 p.m. CT on Tuesday. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

An official with Richardson International wants the federal government to take action in the wake of a looming strike at CP Railway, and says Ottawa should consider deeming grain transportation an essential service.

The unions representing train operators and signalling workers at Canadian Pacific Railway announced over the weekend they could strike as early as 9 p.m. CT Tuesday.

Jean-Marc Ruest, senior vice-president at Winnipeg-based Richardson International, said the agricultural and food industry company is already stockpiling grain at processing plants and letting some customers know there could be disruptions.

He wants to see the federal government bring in back-to-work legislation now, because a strike could have major implications internationally.

"We think legislation that would require return to work should be enacted," he said. "And even better yet, consideration given to grain being an essential service that would be outside the scope of these types of labour disruptions."

Federal back-to-work legislation was enacted to end a 10-day railway strike in 2012.

Jean-Marc Ruest is the senior vice-president of Richardson International. (CBC)

Ruest said grain distributors are "captive" to railway operators in a way most consumers aren’t.

"It’s a little different than a normal labour-relations issue, where the consumer of the product has other options, has other suppliers that they can go to," he said.

"In this case we are completely captive to the rail provider and so we think we bear a very significant — actually, a disproportionate — share of the cost of the labour disruption."

Every time railway unions threaten labour action, Ruest said it’s disruptive to business and potentially damaging to Canada’s international reputation as a grain producer.

"We have to maintain a reputation of being a reliable supplier of quality goods. We’ve got the quality goods, no doubt about that. But we’ve got to be a reliable exporter," he said.

"That reliability reputation gets negatively impacted when we’re unable to meet our contractual obligations to our international customers, whether it be because of bad weather, poor rail service or a labour disruption."

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers advised CP of their intention to strike in a statement on Saturday.

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