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Saskatchewan Premier Calls on Ottawa to Legislate Railroad Workers as an Essential Service

REGINA — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is urging the federal government to classify rail workers as essential and ensure back-to-work legislation is passed if Canadian Pacific Railway employees go on strike .

Moe says the Saskatchewan Party government plans to deliver a petition to Ottawa this week calling for change.

“Hopefully that will make it to parliament so they can have a discussion and prioritize what they can actually do to make a difference,” Moe said at a convention of the Association of Rural Municipalities of the Saskatchewan Wednesday.

He also said he would raise the issue with the other provinces.

The union representing CP railroad workers said more than 96% of its members had voted in favor of a strike. The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference says wages, benefits and pensions are the top issues. If contract negotiations fail, the union must give the company 72 hours’ notice before its members can go on strike.

Moe said a strike would affect goods transported across the province and hurt industries already facing supply chain delays. It would be “catastrophic” for products entering or leaving Saskatchewan, including grain shipments to the southern United States, he added.

“It just can’t happen. I trust and hope that the federal government is already considering to some degree what back-to-work legislation would look like.”

The Teamsters did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesman for the federal transport minister’s office did not respond to the petition, but said the government was monitoring the situation and encouraged both sides to work together to reach a resolution.

Canadian Pacific said the federal government intervened in eight of the last nine rounds of collective bargaining it had with the union. He said there had been strikes in the last three rounds of talks since 2011.

“That’s a reason for them to formalize this in essential services legislation,” Moe said.

Ray Orb, president of the rural municipalities association, said now would be the worst time for railway workers to go on strike.

Recent droughts and problems with the Russian invasion of Ukraine have worsened supply shortages, especially for grain-dependent farmers in Saskatchewan and Alberta, Orb said.

“There are a large number of cattle concentrated in areas where there is really no forage. Many of our farmers are already stressed because there is no hay. water and therefore this grain is crucial,” he said.

“If we run out of grain, we will have problems in the livestock sector that we have never seen before.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 16, 2022.

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press