By David F. Rooney
About 170 local engineers and conductors with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference-Running Trades (TCRC) joined their 3,000 brothers and sistersacross Canada on strike Sunday after the collapse of negotiations with the corporation.
“This is not about money,” John Kiengersky, chairman of Revelstoke Local 657, said on Sunday afternoon. “The primary issue is about fatigue, safety, family time and quality of life.”
He acknowledged that union members are already well paid but they are worn down by the kind of schedule CP imposes on them.
CP Rail requires engineers and conductors, what are known collectively as “the running trades,” to be available for work on two hours notice even if they have just come off a shift and even then they say they do not know how long they are going out for.
“We don’t take this issue lightly,” Kiengersy said.
Nor do their wives and children, some of whom came out to walk the picket line along Victoria Road across from the rail yard. You can see a very short video from the picket line by activating the YouTube video below.
Negotiations broke down Saturday night and despite the participation of federal Labour and Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch.
“I am incredibly disappointed that the TCRC failed to reach an agreement with CP Rail,” she said in a statement issued after the talks broke down. “Due to this reckless disregard for Canadians and the Canadian economy, our government will review all available options to end any work-stoppage expediently, up to and including the introduction of legislation in Parliament.”
CPR workers were ordered back to work during a strike in 2011 and the feds could do that again.
Meanwhile, trains are running, albeit nowhere near pre-strike levels. Revelstoke residents are using to seeing 30 trains a day rumbling through town. By 3 pm on Sunday only four trains had rolled through town. Those trains had been crewed by CPR managers and office staff.
CP claimed in a statement that it had proposed “thoughtful, compelling and fair” options including wage increases and improved benefit plans. It also said in a statement that it had proposed changes to work schedules to improve the quality of life for engineers and conductors.
“TCRC leadership claims that lack of time off is at the heart of its reluctance to negotiate, yet 72 percent of all engineers and conductors do not take the time off they are entitled to. Furthermore, 60 percent 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,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, the company said it has reached a tentative four-year agreement with Unifor, the union representing CP’s 1,200 active mechanical employees that maintain rail cars and locomotives.
Details of the tentative agreement are being withheld pending ratification by the Unifor membership.