Teamsters strike Canadian Pacific over lack of safety; government to order strikers back to work

Update: The Teamsters agreed on February 16 to return to work. The union said that it would return to work and submit to arbitration the outstanding issues between it and Canadian Pacific. The Teamsters made their decision as the government prepared to submit back to work legislation to Parliament.

 

The day after locomotive engineers and other Canadian Pacific Railway workers went on strike, Canada’s Conservative government appears poised to introduce legislation to force the workers back to work.

The strikers belong to Teamsters Canada. Douglas Finnson, president of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference called the legislation premature, but a spokesperson for Canadian Pacific supported the government’s intervention.

The strike began February 15 at midnight, and shortly after the strike began, pickets appeared at Canadian Pacific work sites.

According to the strikers, the company has failed to take their concerns about safety seriously.

One of the main issues that the workers wanted resolved during the negotiations is relief from fatigue caused by improper scheduling.

“We’re out here because we live in these communities and we don’t want to see a quarter of the block blown up because somebody is so tired they can’t make the right decision running a train and something happens,” said Dale Roberts, president of Teamsters Local 243 in Thunder Bay to a local television news crew.

Roberts said that it’s not uncommon for train engineers to receive only two hours notice before they have to report for work. When engineers report to work, they don’t know how long they’ll be on duty.

“The phone rings and you have to go to work in two hours and you don’t know whether you’ll be gone for eight hours, 11 hours or 20 hours,” said Roberts. “There is no real schedule, the company has been unwilling or unable to give us any defined schedule.”

“Our members are chronically fatigued when they’re coming to work,” said Roberts.

Union leaders describe Canadian Pacific rules on rest as dysfunctional. While the current collective bargaining agreement requires that trainmen be given sufficient rest time after working 10 continuous hours, the company often ignores the rules.

“We require sufficient fatigue countermeasures to protect our members safety and health,” said Finnson in a statement issued after the strike began. “An effective fatigue management system requires that our members must be in control of their ability to obtain sufficient rest, and the employer must respect the rest provisions within the collective agreement.”

Finnson blamed the strike on Canadian Pacific owners, who since 2012 have taken a confrontational approach when dealing with workers.

“(Canadian Pacific)  has adopted a style of labor relations based on confrontation and establishing a culture of fear among the employees, including management,” said Finnson in a statement released in January after union members voted 93 percent to 7 percent to authorize a strike if a fair collective bargaining agreement could not be achieved.

Finnson added that the Canada Industrial Relations Board in 2013 found Canadian Pacific  guilty of violating Canada’s Labor Code. According to the board, Canadian Pacific “has made it virtually impossible for the labor-relations system to work as it should.”

Canadian Pacific’s labor relations worsened in 2012 after hedge fund investor William Ackman gained a controlling interest in the company and began implementing a series of cost cutting measures.

Union members said that some of these measures have put their safety at risk.

A prolonged strike at Canadian Pacific could have a serious impact on both the US and Canadian economies.

Oil producers who recover oil from Canada’s oil sands are relying more on Canadian Pacific to ship their oil to US refineries.

Canadian Pacific hauls imported goods received at the country’s western ports to US cities including Chicago and New York.

Canadian Pacific also hauls cars, lumber, and other products produced throughout Canada to their final destinations in the US and Canada.

Labor Minister Kellie Leitch said that the government is looking at all options to get the trains running again including introducing legislation in Parliament that orders the strikers back to work.

The government said that it intends to file a bill entitled, An Act to Provide for the Resumption of Rail Service Operations, sometime between 12 P.M. and 3 P.M. on February 16.

After the bill is introduced, Parliament will have to vote on it, and it could take four or five days before the workers are forced back to work.

Canadian Pacific employs some trainmen in the US, including locomotive engineers who belong to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), which is affiliated with the Teamsters.

Dennis Pierce, president of BLET, accused Canadian Pacific of threatening its US employees with disciplinary action if they respect the strike in Canada and of ignoring safety concerns.

“It is clear that CP is incapable of bargaining in good faith,” said Pierce. “In a further display of its contempt for rail labor, CP is for the first time threatening to force its US-based union-represented engineers to cross Canadian picket lines, even though other options are available. We also are receiving reports that CP is forcing US-based train crews to operate trains with hazardous commodities over Canadian territories they are not familiar with, and to perform other duties of striking . . .  employees. This blatant disregard for the safety of BLET’s membership and the general public must stop.”

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