TORONTO (AP) – Canada introduced legislation Monday to force striking Canadian Pacific Railway workers back to their jobs after talks stalled over the weekend, the country’s labor minister said Monday.
Labor Minister Lisa Raitt said the freight service shutdown at Canada’s second largest railway is hurting the economy.
Locomotive engineers and conductors went on strike Wednesday, shutting down freight service along nearly 14,900 miles (24,000 kilometers) of track in Canada and the U.S.
Raitt called Canadian Pacific Railway the backbone of the country’s economy, and she has said she would force strikers back to work if necessary.
“The strike can’t go on,” Raitt told Parliament. “We need to get the trains running again.”
The railway and the union said mediated talks broke off Sunday with little hope of resumption.
The government introduced the back-work-legislation on Monday. Raitt is hoping strikers could be back to work on Thursday.
Raitt noted that Canadian Pacific Railway moves $50 billion worth of freight each year, including more than half of Canada’s potash, wheat and coal. The Mining Association of Canada has expressed “grave concern” about the strike’s impact.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has cited potential economic damage in the past for preventing or ending strikes at Air Canada and Canada Post.
Opposition parties said the government is undermining the right to collective bargaining.
Major points of contention in the latest strike are pensions, certain work rules and fatigue management.
The strike has come amid big changes at the railway. Earlier this month, Canadian Pacific appointed an interim chief executive after chief executive Fred Green announced his departure, ending a months-long battle that pitted New York activist investor Bill Ackman against a board of directors stocked with Canadian business titans.
The railroad also elected a new board of 16 directors, including seven backed by Ackman, whose Pershing Square Capital Management fund is Canadian Pacific’s largest shareholder with about 14 percent of the company’s stock.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)