Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated nearly 30,000 workers were involved in the strike. This has now been updated.
CP Rail trains have ground to a halt across the country after thousands of workers began a long-anticipated strike early Sunday morning.
The strike involving nearly 3,000 engineers, conductors and other train employees took effect at 1 a.m. ET, after both the company and the workers’ union dug in their heels over a long-simmering contract dispute.
The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference issued a release just before midnight saying a lockout was being initiated by management at the Calgary-based railway.
The union then issued a subsequent release which said that in addition to the lockout, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference members were also on strike at CP throughout the country with picketing underway at various Canadian Pacific locations.
The two sides are at odds over 26 outstanding issues, including wages, benefits and pensions.
The office of federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan said in a statement that while the work stoppage had begun both parties were still at the bargaining table with mediators and it expected “the parties to keep working until they reach an agreement.”
CP Rail indicated Wednesday night that it had issued a 72-hour notice to the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference of its plan to lock out employees on Sunday, if the union and the company were unable to come to a negotiated settlement or agree to binding arbitration.
The union then sent a strike notice to the company, which CP Rail said it had received Thursday.
The work stoppage threatens supply lines already struggling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Roughly 45 Canadian industry groups said Thursday that any disruption would hinder Canada’s freight capacity and hurt the broader economy as it grapples with inflation, product shortages, rising fuel costs and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
O’Regan said Wednesday night that Ottawa is “monitoring the situation closely” and wants both parties to consider making compromises to reach a deal that is fair for workers and the employer.
But the industry groups want the government to go further, with some calling for return-to-work legislation similar to what was passed during the Canada Post workers strike in 2018.
Canada’s agriculture industry has also expressed concern about a potential work stoppage at CP.
Farm groups have warned any delay on the rail lines would affect everything from shipments of fertilizer and other inputs during the crucial spring seeding season, as well as deliveries of emergency livestock feed to drought-affected parts of the Prairies.
–With files from the Canadian Press