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The Alberta government is putting pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to stave off a potential strike by railway and port workers, which may take effect next week if an agreement isn’t reached. 

Over 9,000 Canadian rail workers threatened to go on strike if their union’s latest demands are not met by their companies. Two of Canada’s major railways, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Kansas City may be shut down as of May 22. 

These railways are responsible for transporting the bulk of Canada’s grain, potash and coal. Management and unions at the Port of Vancouver have also hit an impasse in their negotiations, which may result in a strike as well.

“Any work stoppage affecting our railways and ports would be crippling for our national economy and North American supply chains,” said Alberta Premier Danielle Smith in a letter to Trudeau.

Smith urged the Trudeau government to do everything it could to mediate the disputes so that these parties can settle. 

“In the event of a work stoppage, your government must be prepared to use all the tools at its disposal to terminate it rapidly, including, if necessary, back-to-work legislation,” said Smith.

Trudeau’s government could introduce a draft law that would force striking workers back to work, however, it’s unlikely that his administration would take that approach based on similar situations in the past. 

The negotiations are primarily about employee rest provisions

CN said that the union will not comply with a “more modern agreement” predicated on an hourly schedule. The company said that this will help to “protect the Canadian supply chain, North American economy” and provide workers with a fair deal.

The parties are currently far from reaching an agreement, according to CPKC, who said their demands are in line with Canadian regulations and that their proposals for rest are not in conflict with work safety.  

However, the TCRC claims that modifications to their rest provisions will create workplace safety issues.

“The accumulative effect of sleep disruptions, inadequate sleep facilities and varying duty periods can lead to significant safety risks. Claims that the companies are proposing predictable work schedules are inaccurate,” said TCRC President Paul Boucher during a press conference last week. 

Now the union and rail companies are in the 21-day cooling off period that is legally required before any further actions or agreements can take place. 

“I have to admit, we’re extremely worried right now,” Grain Growers of Canada president Andre Harpe told Global News.

“We rely on the rail to bring a lot of the fertilizers that we use closer to the farm. So this could have a devastating effect on our bottom line. It gets back to at the end of the day, we have to get our seed in the ground with the right nutrients to get a crop. So, this sets up the year for us. So, we were extremely worried.”

Canada’s agricultural community is heavily dependent on rail to transport the majority of its products, from receiving fertilizers to their crops being exported for market. 

“Close to 95% of our grain is exported. To me, we are the breadbasket of the world. And it gets back to a lot of these countries that are dependent on timely flows of grain,” said Harpe.

The Port of Vancouver strike last year saw 52 grain ships stuck at the port for some time over labour disputes. 

Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan asked the Canada Industrial Relations Board to review what safety implications a rail stroke may have last week, however, he maintained that the Liberals’ overall position was in favour of collective bargaining. 

“Our government believes in collective bargaining,” said O’Regan, when asked about the looming potential strike at the Port of Vancouver.