CP Rail says striking workers well paid

Canadian Pacific Rail locomotives sit idle at the company's Port Coquitlam yard east of Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, May 23, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The pension offer being made to the union representing some 4,800 striking Canadian Pacific Railway employees is better than the industry standard, the company said Friday as contract negotiations continued ahead of looming back-to-work legislation.

The railway operator said the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents workers at CP as well as employees at its chief competitor Canadian National Railway (TSX:CN) among others, has agreed to the same provisions at other railways that striking workers have been offered.

The union disagrees with CP's assessment, but the railway operator says an internal analysis suggests the company's latest offer on pensions, health spending accounts and work rules are equivalent to those the Teamsters have in place with its primary competitor.

"CP strongly feels our current pension offer to the Teamsters is fair and reasonable and is better than the rest of the rail industry, including at CN, which has no escalation clause as the CP offer does," said company spokesman Ed Greenberg.

"The Teamsters will not agree to those same changes with CP, but they have taken strike action that is now resulting in CP business shifting to the other more profitable railway where the Teamsters represent employees with lesser pension provisions than we are offering."

Greenberg's comments came on the third full day of a work stoppage at the railway as the union and management continued to negotiate while workers walked the picket line.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has said the government is prepared to introduce back-to-work legislation as early as Monday if CP and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference can't reach a deal.

Raitt has estimated that a prolonged strike by the 4,800 CP Rail works could cost the Canadian economy an estimated $540 million a week.

The Teamsters union questioned CP's intent in putting out figures it called misleading in the middle of bargaining.

"We're actively bargaining here, I don't even know what they're doing," said Teamsters vice-president Douglas Finnson.

"I think maybe if they spent as much time bargaining as they did putting out press releases then we might be getting somewhere," he added.

Pensions, as well as work rules and fatigue management remain major points of contention in the bargaining process.

But CP Rail (TSX:CPR) insists its employees are well paid and receive better-than-average pensions.

For example, the average wage of a CP engineer for road freight is about $108,000, the company said. It added that a Teamsters member working as a road locomotive engineer can have a maximum pension in 2012 of more than $92,600.

But Teamsters said no CP unionized employee actually earns that cap, calling the figures provided misleading.

"No locomotive engineers are getting $92,600 in pensions, the only people getting $92,600 in pensions are company managers whose income is over $144,000 a year."

Canadian Pacific has temporarily laid-off more than 2,000 other unionized CP employees and another 1,400 could soon join those ranks as their services are no longer needed.

Meanwhile, companies that rely on Canadian Pacific Railway to move their products across the country are looking at their alternatives to ship their goods after CP suspended all freight shipments — affecting oil, coal, automotive, fertilizer and lumber industries, among others.

Some industry associations have been calling on Ottawa to send CP employees back to work.