The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference union said if a deal can't be reached by midnight Saturday, Canadian Pacific (TSX:CP) will face job action by locomotive engineers, conductors, trainmen and yardmen across Canada.
"We want to make it very clear that there is a deadline and we would like to reach an agreement before that time to avoid any job action by our members," union president Douglas Finnson said in an interview Tuesday.
The Teamsters have been meeting CP negotiators this week in Montreal with the help of federal mediators.
Contract talks were to resume Wednesday.
Finnson said the company is either unwilling or unable to comply with collective agreements that require train crews to stop operating and obtain rest after 10 continuous hours of work.
But a Canadian Pacific official said it has proposed a model to improve scheduling, as well as other offers.
"CP's offers included wage increases, better benefit plans, and the re-instatement of the Employee Share Purchase Plan in a long-term agreement," Peter Edwards, vice-president, Human Resources and Labour Relations, said in a news release late Tuesday night.
"We also proposed a model that will improve the scheduling of regular time off and quality of life while enhancing our service and efficiency, but the union has not been interested."
Edwards said the company "is committed to finding a workable solution with the union and continues to bargain in good faith."
He said if there is a strike, CP has a contingency plan to use managers to maintain a "reduced" freight service.
Finnson suggested any disruption of rail service would have a widespread effect.
"Anybody that relies on rail would be affected. Coal, potash, grain, bulk commodities in general. Intermodals. Cross-border oil."
He said CP managers and other staff would be hard-pressed to operate trains and maintain service.
"They could try and run some but they would never be able to provide the level of service that more than 3,000 professional railroaders provide."
There is a chronic shortage of engineers, conductors and trainmen at CP, Finnson said. Another concern is the company's push to install equipment on trains to monitor crews.
In 2012, the federal government passed legislation to force an end to a nine-day strike by Canadian Pacific rail employees.
At the time, then-labour minister Lisa Raitt said such a strike would cost the economy $540 million a week and undermine Canada's reputation as an international business partner.
There are other contract talks underway this week in Montreal between Canada's two largest railways and unions.
Unifor, which represents 1,650 workers who perform safety inspections, brake tests and some repair and maintenance work, will be in a legal strike position with CP early Sunday morning, but the union has not issued the required 72-hour strike notice.
Brian Stevens, national rail director for Unifor, said CP is seeking concessions from the union despite being profitable, but the two sides are at least talking.
"We have a tremendous way to go yet before we get to an agreement," Stevens said. "I am kind of skeptically optimistic."
Canadian National Railway (TSX:CNR) is also in contract talks with the Teamsters for 1,800 locomotive engineers and with Unifor representing 4,800 other workers.
Neither union in the CN talks has taken a strike vote, but a 21-day cooling-off period following conciliation ends Saturday at midnight.
"CN is optimistic that the company and the unions will be able to reach mutually satisfactory collective agreements without labour disruptions," said company spokesman Mark Hallman.
Officials at federal Labour Minister Kellie Leitch's office in Ottawa could not be reached for comment.
— By John Cotter in Edmonton
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