The Surrey Board of Trade is calling on the federal government to designate rail service essential after the CP Railway strike, which started Sunday, came to a halt at noon on Tuesday after the employer and union agreed to final and binding arbitration.
Earlier this week the board was urging the federal government to legislate striking Canadian Pacific Railway employees back to work, but local Liberal MPs said they wanted to give the collective bargaining process a chance to play out.
“I’m sure they’ve got a lot to work out, though,” Huberman said Tuesday, “but it’s good news that our supply chain systems are going to continue and that Surrey’s agricultural industry, our food manufacturing industry are hopefully not going to be compromised. You never know when labour disputes will pop up again, that’s why we will still continue to ask the federal government to ensure that rail infrastructure is considered an essential service. Like, this is not the first time that this has happened.”
Workers began picketing on Sunday and Anita Huberman, CEO of the board of trade, was particularly concerned about what impact that would have on Surrey’s agricultural sector, which occupies about a third of the city’s land.
“Surrey’s agricultural exports are a critical piece of food security for all of Canada,” Huberman said.
According to the City of Surrey’s engineering department, CP Rail operates lines east of 184 Street and south of Highway 10 which connect east to its main lines north of the Fraser River. West of 184 Street, the railway company “has rights” to run trains to Roberts Bank Rail Terminal along BC Harbour Railway.
Huberman noted that Surrey is home to close to 500 farms which generate more than $165 million in economic activity annually.
“A substantial percentage of BC’s farm revenue is generated in Surrey - one of the richest growing areas in Canada because of its favourable soils, mild climate, and extended growing season. Surrey farmers produce a large percentage of BC’s celery, carrots, onions, and lettuce. Other crops produced in Surrey include potatoes, blueberries, and greenhouse and nursery crops. Forage and pasture are also significant farm uses,” she said.
Ken Hardie, Liberal MP for Fleetwood-Port Kells, said Monday that Canada’s labour minister was in Calgary overseeing efforts by government mediators to get the employer and employees to an agreement.
“That’s our preferred approach to this,” Hardie said.
The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference represents roughly 3,000 locomotive engineers, conductors and train and yard employees throughout Canada. Dave Fulton, a spokesman for the union, said the decision to agree to final and binding arbitration was “not taken lightly.
“While arbitration is not the preferred method, we were able to negotiate terms and conditions that were in the best interest of our members. Our members will return to work at 12:00 (noon) local time today,” he said Tuesday. Still, wages and pensions remain “stumbling blocks.”
Sukh Dhaliwal, Liberal MP for Surrey-Newton, said the government has since December been working with both parties toward reaching an agreement. “We all know Canadians have worked hard over the past two years throughout the pandemic and to find collective solutions for our collective challenges and now they want the same from such people on our national economy,” he said.