CP Rail workers are on the picket lines after the union representing engineers and conductors went on strike at midnight on Sunday.
“The primary issue that we’re striking for is fatigue management,” said John Kiengersky, one of the local chairman for Revelstoke conductors. “We have issues of the company reducing our rest, wanting us to be at work more. The guys are tired.
“We have collective agreement issues. We have hundreds of examples of crews coming on to work and serving 10 hours notice in accordance with the collective agreement, and the company failing to recognize that and forcing us to work more than 10 hours.”
The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference issued a strike notice earlier this week and last-ditch negotiations between the union and CP Rail failed to result in an agreement.
At midnight Sunday, the running trades walked off the job. They set up a picket line in the CP Rail parking lot on Victoria Road.
“We’re looking at working more hours and spending less time at home,” said Kiengersky. “It all boils down to fatigue management. It’s a big issue for us right now on the trains.”
TCRC represents about 3,300 workers across Canada, including about 175 in Revelstoke.
Doug Finnison, the president of TCRC, announced the strike with a news release to the TCRC website on Saturday night. He said CP Rail was demanding severe concessions from the union.
“We are 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.” he said.
CP Rail says it has offered increased wages and benefits, as well as changes to work schedules that would improve the quality of life for conductors and engineers.
Hunter Harrison, the CEO of CP Rail, said engineers and conductors aren’t taking the time off they’re entitled to. “We want to implement a model that allows us to properly schedule crews while maintaining the highest standards of safe railroading,” he said in a news release.
The Conservative government is expected to introduce back-to-work legislation in parliament on Monday, the Canadian Press reported. The 2012 TCRC strike was ended by government legislation.
Labour Minister Kellie Leitch, who involved herself in the bargaining late in the week, issued a statement on Sunday accusing the union of stifling progress in negotiations and calling on it “to cease all strike action and immediately return to the negotiating table.”
“Our Government is committed to protecting Canada’s economy during this time of global economic uncertainty,” she stated. “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.”
In response, Finnison issued a statement on the TCRC website expressing disappointment in the government’s support of CP Rail. “Disappointment in our Governments clear favouritism towards the corporate position is only exceeded by our determination to never give up the fight to protect the rights and working conditions of our fellow workers,” he wrote. “The workers voices will not be silenced by legislation and the workers rights in Canada are not something that should be overridden by the corporate elite and their political allies.”
Despite the strike, rail traffic continued at a reduced level, with managers driving trains. That has been an issue for the union recently, said Kiengersky.
Engineers and conductors in Revelstoke have complained of deteriorating working conditions over the past few years since Hunter Harrison took over as CEO of CP Rail. Recently, the company merged the Mountain and Shuswap divisions into one super-pool, which workers say makes it more difficult to predict when they will be called in to work.