In the News March 19
Canadian Pacific Serves Notice of Lockout to Teamsters Canada Rail Conference
Stand with Rail Workers!
No to Criminalization of Their Just Struggle!
On March 16, Canadian Pacific (CP) served the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) with notice of lockout. In the event that there is no negotiated settlement between the parties, CP will lock out the workers on March 20 at 12:01 am.
More than 3,000 workers are involved in this effort to renew their labour contract on the basis of their demands on issues such as wages, benefits, pensions and work rules. The workers are locomotive engineers, conductors, train and yard workers. Their collective agreement expired on December 31, 2021 and union negotiators report that since bargaining began in September 2021, CP has refused to agree to their demands for conditions they deem acceptable. The TCRC held an electronic strike vote in February. It reported in early March that 3,062 ballots were sent to members, and 96.7 per cent of those taking part voted in favour of strike action if necessary.
In its communique dated March 16, CP President and CEO Keith Creel writes: “For the sake of our employees, our customers, the supply chain we serve and the Canadian economy that is trying to recover from multiple disruptions, we simply cannot prolong for weeks or months the uncertainty associated with a potential labor disruption. The world has never needed Canada’s resources and an efficient transportation system to deliver them more than it does today. Delaying resolution would only make things worse. We take this action with a view to bringing this uncertainty to an end.”
The certainty CP is trying to assert is that CP workers are being blamed for all the problems affecting the supply chain and the Canadian economy so that their struggle can be criminalized by the state. Blaming workers for these problems rests on an official anti-worker outlook. In fact it is the workers who are and have been ensuring the functioning of the supply chain and are not the problem. They have been doing so at the risk of their health and their lives, particularly during these past two most grueling years and it is unconscionable for CP to attack these workers in order to isolate them and have them criminalized.
CP’s plan is to provoke them through a lockout and then use the lockout to demand back-to-work legislation under the hoax of terminating the chaos that they themselves have created.
It is of significance that just prior to CP publicly issuing its lockout notice, the known virulently anti-worker government of Saskatchewan petitioned the Trudeau government to classify rail workers as an essential service so as to render workers’ actions in defence of their rights ineffective. It is said that Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe circulated a petition at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) convention on March 16, asking government officials, delegates and guests to sign it. According to the media, he said that the essential service designation would ensure back-to-work legislation is passed if CP workers follow through with strike action against CP. Premier Moe also said that his government will be reaching out to other provinces in the coming days to garner support for its demand.
TCRC responded to the lockout notice by way of a communique.
“It was well known that CP was going to force a work stoppage and lock out our members. They have done just that,” said Dave Fulton, spokesperson for TCRC. “At the bargaining table, CP continues to dismiss our members’ demands and are unwilling to negotiate the issues they have created. We remain committed to reaching an acceptable agreement that addresses our members’ issues. Our members are fully engaged and will be ready in the event CP carries out the notice.”
One of the issues, TCRC says, is pensions. The “crime” of the workers is to stick with their defined benefit pension plan whose conditions, according to their collective agreement, are negotiable. They have refused to join CP’s Pension Improvement Account according to which the conditions are not negotiable and decisions are solely taken by CP. CP is raising hell against the workers, saying that this demand of negotiating pension benefits is going to jeopardize the long-term health of the pension plan that 30,000 other CP employees and pensioners rely on.
This is not an acceptable position and certainly not justification for a lockout and back-to-work legislation.
On the issue of working conditions, under former CEO Hunter Harrison, between 2012 and 2016, CP Rail eliminated 4,500 positions — 23 per cent of the company’s overall workforce — and increased the length and speed of its trains. This meant smaller crews on fewer trains running faster with heavier loads. Workers say this is an unsustainable dangerous situation.
CP Rail workers went on strike in 2015 and 2018 to address worker fatigue. Teamsters Canada Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Stephane Lacroix, is quoted in the media regarding longstanding concerns of CP workers on this issue:
“It’s always the same thing from one negotiation to another, he said. For the young people who are starting a career in the rail industry, they don’t want to stay. They don’t want to stay because they don’t want to spend 50, 60, 70 hours … away from home. They want to spend time with their family, they want to work, but they don’t want to work all the time. So it’s a really difficult situation. There’s a workers shortage in this industry and it keeps getting worse.
“At the end of the day, CP Rail, and maybe other rail companies, they will have a lot of difficulty recruiting new workers, because people don’t want to work in those working conditions. There’s issues that could lead them to injuries, to exhaustion, to death, to a lot of issues, a lot of mental and physical issues – and it has to be addressed.”
Instead of the concerns being addressed, what is happening is that workers’ struggles are increasingly being criminalized by the state so that all power is given to private monopolies and oligopolies in the pursuit of maximum private profit at all costs.
For example, in the U.S., in January of this year, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe (BNSF) railway workers wanted to go on strike against a deadly “attendance policy” that was imposed on them and would lead to discipline and even firing of workers taking time off for medical or even family reasons. The Court ruled that the strike would be illegal, stating that this was a “minor dispute” and that strike action would cause irreparable harm to BNSF and aggravate the problems of the supply chain in the U.S.  Since that time, U.S. railway workers have had to work under this policy they disagree with, which is dangerous for their health and their lives, and which was imposed on them with the support of the courts.
Workers’ Forum firmly denounces the lockout notice delivered by CP and calls upon all workers to stand with the CP workers against this provocation and effort to criminalize their struggle for a say in determining their working conditions and in the direction the railway sector is going.
1. For more information about the ruling of the U.S. Court, read “Railway Workers in Bitter Fight to Defend Their Livelihood and Their Lives”, in the February 28, 2022 edition of Workers’ Forum.
(Workers’ Forum, posted March 19, 2022)