Engineers, conductors, trainmen and yardmen for Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) are on strike after 11th-hour talks ended Saturday night without a new agreement.
“Picket lines are now being set up across Canada and the rail shutdown is happening,” Doug Finnson, president of the workers’ union, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), said in a release Sunday morning.
“While we are disappointed with where we are and the timing of this strike — during a downturn in the Canadian economy — we will continue to forge ahead,” CP CEO Hunter Harrison said in a separate release Sunday, confirming CP managers will continue to operate freight trains on a reduced schedule.
Federal Labour Minister Kellie Leitch, in a separate statement Sunday, said the government will “review all available options to end any work-stoppage expediently, up to and including the introduction of legislation in Parliament.”
The TCRC said Sunday its negotiating committee has advised CP’s chief negotiator, and officials with Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services (FMCS), that they “remain available to negotiate an acceptable agreement” on behalf of the 3,000 affected staff.
However, Finnson said, “less than two hours before the expiration of the cooling-off period, the final package of concessions (from CP) amounted to much the same thing as the hourly agreement this same management team tried to impose on our brothers and sisters at Canadian National (CN) in 2007.
“Those tactics resulted in a national rail strike at CN then, and unfortunately have done so again today at CP.”
The union also warned CP that use of other workers to run CP trains during a strike would be a “particularly sensitive situation.”
“During our final discussions tonight we explained to CP chief operating officer Keith Creel that we had received reports of American citizens being transported into Winnipeg to perform the work of our Canadian members,” Finnson said.
Creel, Finnson said, “committed to making certain that did not happen and would correct anything like that which has already happened.”
Finnson said the membership is now on strike “to overcome the culture of fear initiated by CP management, to achieve a healthy and safe work environment for the working people, and to introduce effective and progressive fatigue countermeasures within our workplace without diminishing the collective agreement.”
CP said Sunday it had proposed “thoughtful, compelling and fair options including wage increases and improved benefit plans” and “changes to work schedules to improve the quality of life for engineers and conductors.”
CP said the Teamsters’ leadership claims a lack of time off is “at the heart of its reluctance to negotiate, yet 72 per cent of all engineers and conductors do not take the time off they are entitled to.
“Furthermore, 60 per cent of the conductors and engineers at CP make between $80,000 and $160,000, while working an average of 31 to 35 hours a week.”
“Our conductors and engineers have plenty of options for time off, but the vast majority don’t take full advantage of those opportunities,” Harrison said. “We want to implement a model that allows us to properly schedule crews while maintaining the highest standards of safe railroading.”
In her statement, Leitch also blamed the union for the situation, saying that “after securing a commitment from CP, the employer, to send the remaining issues to voluntary arbitration, I find it incredibly frustrating that the union continually stifled progress for both parties.”
Leitch urged the union to “consider the impact of their dispute on the Canadian public, including those commuters in Montreal who will be affected by a work stoppage, and to cease all strike action and immediately return to the negotiating table.”
Unifor reaches deal
The announcements from CP and the TCRC follow a last-minute tentative deal Saturday night between the company and Unifor, the union representing CP’s 1,800 safety inspection, repair and maintenance staff for rail cars and locomotives.
“We were able to negotiate a new agreement that addresses the concerns raised by our members, while avoiding a work stoppage,” Unifor Local 101R spokesman Tom Murphy said in a release Sunday.
Details of Unifor’s new four-year deal with CP will be disclosed only after ratification, the union said. Ratification meetings will be scheduled with members across the country over the next three weeks, Unifor added.
“After months of negotiating, we have agreed on a deal that is fair to all stakeholders,” CP’s Harrison said in a separate release. “We look forward to a successful ratification vote and to working together with our Unifor colleagues in driving CP forward.”
TCRC-represented engineers at CN, whose previous collective agreement with the company also expired Dec. 31, also announced Saturday they had reached a tentative agreement. — AGCanada.com Network