Back-to-work bill will end CP rail strike

Pickets at Pitt Meadows intermodal yard should be down by Friday

Workers were off the job at intermodal rail yards.

Workers were off the job at intermodal rail yards.

Canadian Pacific railway workers don’t like being off the job or on a picket line, but they don’t like being told they have to go back to work either.

“Why don’t we just get rid of the Canada Labour Code and have the government determine everybody’s collective bargaining process?” asked union rep Gerry Ranson.

“It’s getting out of hand,” the legislative representative for the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference said at the picket lines outside the Pitt Meadows intermodal yard Monday.

Since the 1950s, railway workers have been sent back to work eight times, more than any other sector, he pointed out.

The union walked off the job just after midnight last Wednesday, grinding rail traffic to a halt across Canada and idling about 4,800 workers. A side deal with the company kept the West Coast Express train running.

About 40 workers were on the picket lines in Pitt Meadows. Those lines could come down as early as Thursday if federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has back-to-work legislation passed by Wednesday.

The union says the company wants to cut back on fatigue management by extending the work day from 10 to 12 hours, while also cutting pensions by 40 per cent.

But the public should understand what fatigue management is and why it’s needed, said Ranson.

Currently, the company has to pay financial penalties for work days longer than 10 hours.

Ranson, a locomotive engineer, drives 10,000-foot-long trains from Boston Bar into Vancouver. Those trains are hauling liquified petroleum gas, sulphur dioxide and chlorine gas that could blow “half of metropolitan Vancouver to kingdom come.

“They want me to be running a train for 12 hours, getting a call at 22:00 at night, until 10 a.m. the next day.

“I get no scheduled days off.”

He said the company also wants to claw back the health spending account for retirees, which they accepted in return for giving up an extended health care plan in 2004.

Ranson said he works 60 hours a week and makes $105,000 a year and will get a pension of $73,000 a year when he retires next year after working 35 years.

Raitt, though, said Monday that the dispute is costing Canada $540 million a week, and will put thousands of jobs at risk if it continues.

Ranson said an arbitrator could make an independent settlement or could be told to make a “final offer selection,” in which both sides put forward their best offer, with an arbitrator choosing just one. That happened in the Air Canada dispute and it favoured the union, Ranson added.

Canadian Pacific spokesman Ed Greenberg said CP has continued to offer pension, health spending accounts, and work rule proposals “that exceed those that the teamsters have in place with our primary competitor, CN.”

He added that safety is a priority and that the rail industry is a highly-regulated industry.

The company also has fatigue-management plans developed in consultation with the joint  company-union health and safety policy committee, Greenberg added.

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