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Canadian Pacific Railway threatening lockout amid dispute, with potential North Dakota, Minnesota effects

After failing to reach an agreement with unionized workers in negotiations this week, CP has announced its plan to lock out employees on Sunday, March 20, unless an agreement is reached.

Canadian Pacific Railway
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GRAND FORKS — Canadian Pacific Railway, which transports products like grain, ethanol, potash and crude oil between the U.S. and Canada, has provided notice of a potential lockout of unionized workers who have threatened to strike.

If it happens, it could have implications on service in eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, where grain elevators especially rely on the company's service.

Teamster Canada Rail Conference, the labor union that represents around 3,000 engineers, conductors, train workers and yard workers at CP, voted 96.7% to authorize a strike, with key issues of wages, benefits, pension and work rules. After failing to reach an agreement with unionized workers in negotiations this week, CP announced its plan to lock out employees on Sunday, March 20, unless an agreement is reached.

A statement from CP said the railway presented an offer to TCRC addressing 26 outstanding issues between the parties, including the union's main issues of wages, benefits and pensions. CP says TCRC leadership rejected the offer.

“For the sake of our employees, our customers, the supply chain we serve and the Canadian economy that is trying to recover from multiple disruptions, we simply cannot prolong for weeks or months the uncertainty associated with a potential labor disruption,” Keith Creel, CP president and CEO, said in the statement. “The world has never needed Canada’s resources and an efficient transportation system to deliver them more than it does today. Delaying resolution would only make things worse. We take this action with a view to bringing this uncertainty to an end.”

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TCRC responded to the notice of a lockout with its own statement on Wednesday.

“It was well known that CP was going to force a work stoppage and lock out our members. They have done just that,” Dave Fulton, spokesman for TCRC, said in a release on Thursday. “At the bargaining table, CP continues to dismiss our members’ demands and (is) unwilling to negotiate the issues they have created. We remain committed to reaching an acceptable agreement that addresses our members' issues. Our members are fully engaged and will be ready in the event CP carries out the notice.”

TCRC says the union is willing to remain at the bargaining table up to and beyond the March 20 lockout deadline set by CP.

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CP runs through Minnesota and northeastern North Dakota, interchanging with regional Northern Plains and Minnesota Northern Railroads. Through those interchanges and its main railway, CP services dozens of grain elevators in Minnesota and North Dakota.

Kevin Peach, manager of the Farmer’s Elevator of Honeyford, near Gilby, North Dakota, says CP has been making contingency plans for weeks with local grain elevators in the case of a service disruption. At the Honeyford elevator, ahead of a potential strike or lockout, grain has been loaded ahead of time, and CP has placed empty train cars at the elevator that will be loaded to ship to feedlots in Alberta as soon as service begins again.

“I don’t believe, at this point at least, that we will have a tremendous amount of bad fallout from it, just because we had time to prepare,” he said.

Peach does not expect the dispute to continue long, but if it does, problems will arise.

“If this went long term, this would have enormous consequences because it would stop grain from going to the West Coast for us to export,” he said. “It would stop the corn we sold to the feedlots in Alberta.”

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CP is also a major transporter of potash, an ingredient used in fertilizer, raising concerns about what a service disruption could mean for agriculture in the U.S.

Earlier this week, Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., wrote a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet, urging them to take action to prevent a Canadian Pacific strike.

Kevin Cramer
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota)

“Up to 15% of CP’s business is fertilizer shipping, and the U.S. relies on Canada to help provide our producers with essential inputs like potash and nitrogen fertilizers,” he wrote. “At a time when agriculture input costs are already skyrocketing, major agriculture producing nations are at war and global food prices are at an all-time high, all steps necessary must be taken to ensure producers have access to the inputs they need.”

The letter also was signed by Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D.; Mike Braun, R-Ind.; and and Steve Dains, R-Mont.

On March 16, 19 Senate Republicans, including Hoeven, signed a letter to President Joe Biden, expressing concerns with fertilizer prices, urging the administration to review options to lower costs for farmers, including engaging with stakeholders to prevent a CP strike.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum sent a similar letter to Trudeau and Minister of Labour Seamus O’Regan. In it he asked the leaders to take all action necessary to help prevent the work stoppage and to protect the supply chain for North Dakota farmers and businesses.

“A work stoppage would be detrimental to our communities, compounding an already stressed supply chain that is still recovering from pandemic disruptions and managing rising transportation costs,” Burgum stated in the letter on Friday, March 18.

He added that CP annually transports more than 11 million tons of products from North Dakota to Canada and more than 2 million tons in the other direction, including agricultural commodities and fuels.

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“We are grateful for the long-term partnerships we have enjoyed with CP and Canada and urge you to take all action necessary to protect the supply chain and avoid the disruption of goods between North Dakota and Canada," he said.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURETRANSPORTATION
Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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