CN and CPKC strike: Sask. farmers predict a bumper crop, but the threat of railroad job action looms


With the healthy dose of rain in June, Saskatchewan farmers should be happy as long as they got the seeds in the ground before it got too soft.


It was a slower start to the season due to the rain, but sunny skies and hot temperatures to kick off July are making for ideal growing conditions.


“There’s kind of a sweet spot,” said Bill Prybylski, vice president of Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS). “That’s kind of where we were this spring in that there was significant enough moisture to get the seeds germinated and get the crops off to a good start. But it wasn’t so wet that we were struggling with getting stuck and having to leave areas un-seeded.”


Outside of some pockets struck by hail and the odd low spot that was waterlogged, Prybylski says this season could be a return to more bountiful crops coming out of the ground.


“We’re always hopeful,” he said. “I guess we wouldn’t be farming if we weren’t hopeful, but it’s looking good so far.”


Some parts of the province could start pulling crops out in a few short weeks, and farmers will want to get their product loaded onto train cars for a number of reasons.


“One to free up bin space,” said Prybylski. “It’s looking like there’s going to be a good harvest, so bins will be full. And also for cash flow. The only way we get paid is when we sell our crops. So we need to move that grain in a timely manner to create cash flow.”


According to the Grain Growers of Canada, 94 per cent of Canadian grain is transported by rail.


But a potential rail worker strike involving CN and CPKC (formerly CP Rail), is threatening the flow of goods by train.


Teamsters Canada, the union representing around 10 thousand rail workers, says it has been trying to negotiate a contract for its workers since November 2023.


“Contracts covering close to 10,000 rail workers expired on December 31st, and we’ve been negotiating ever since,” said Christopher Monette, public affairs director with Teamsters Canada. “Unfortunately with little progress, on May 1st our members voted almost unanimously in favour of strike action. We would have been in a legal strike position on May 22nd if an agreement was not ready.”


Monette says rail employees are concerned with being overworked leading to safety concerns, which in turn causes retention issues.


The Canada Industrial Relations Board has stepped in, suspending any potential strike action while it reviews the negotiations.


“We’re just basically waiting for this tribunal to hand down a decision,” said Monette. “And because they’re independent, we don’t know when exactly this decision is going to come in.”


Monette says it could take weeks or months for the decision. But farmers hoping to get a return on their investment say they can’t afford to have problems when it comes time to harvest their crops.


“A strike at this time of year is potentially very devastating in that producers are counting on moving grain off the combine early in the harvest season,” said Prybylski. “Then any kind of labour disruption or disruption of any kind in the grain handling system is going to be detrimental.”


On June 29, locomotive engineers, yard workers, conductors and rail traffic controllers at both companies voted 98.6 per cent to reauthorize strikes if agreements cannot be reached. Overall voter turnout was 89.1 per cent. 

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