The union representing CP Rail engineers, conductors and rail traffic controllers went on strike Wednesday morning, shutting down freight traffic across Canada and silencing the trains through Revelstoke.
Workers were picketing along Victoria Road by the CP Rail yard holding placards saying, ‘Better fatigue management’ and ‘For our pension,’ amongst others.
The workers, which are represented by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, voted by a 95 per cent margin in favour of a strike in April.
The current collective agreement expired at the start of 2012 and negotations have been ongoing since October.
CP says it is looking to make changes to the pension plan and post-retirement benefits to make them industry-comparable. It says it contributed $1.9 billion over the past three years to fund its pension obligations.
“CP believes the offer it has presented the union is fair and reasonable. We are willing to enter into binding arbitration or negotiation period extensions should an agreement not be reached at this stage,” said Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer Mike Franczak.
The union says CP is looking at major concessions on pensions, work rules and wages. Doug Finnson, the national vice-president of the union, told the Times Review CP was looking at cutting pensions by up to 40 per cent. He said he could not go into details because he was part of the bargaining team.
TCRC also says it wants to resolve issues around fatigue management and work/life balance. “The union wants to get into the new age and get some appropriate scheduling and calling procedures so that are people are not chronically fatigued,” said Finnson.
Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said Wednesday morning that the government was disappointed the parties could not reach an agreement.
“The Government is concerned about the national economic significance this will have and we are prepared to act in the interest of the national economy.” she said. “I urge the parties to resume negotiations and work diligently to reach negotiated agreements or agree to submit to a binding process to settle their disputes.”
On the picket lines several workers expressed the belief that back-to-work legislation would be tabled, though the Raitt did not expressly say that would be the case. Currently Parliament is on break so all MPs would have to be brought back to Ottawa for debate on legislation to begin.
The government previously tabled back-to-work legislation to end strikes at Canada Post and Air Canada.
Will Hayman, the president of the Revelstoke local of TCRC, said CP wasn’t bargaining in good faith in anticipation of the government legislating an end to any job action.
“They’re hoping the government will send us back to work immediately,” he said.
The strike notice comes on the heels of a takeover of the CP Rail Board of Directors by Bill Ackman, the owner of Pershing Square Capital Management, a U.S. hedge fund that owns 14.2 per cent of the company’s shares.
The takeover saw the company’s President and CEO Fred Green step down, along with five other board members. They were replaced by a slate put forward by Ackman and his allies.
Pershing has said it wants to reduce CP Rail’s operating ratio – the percentage of revenue spent on operation – to 65 per cent from 80.1 per cent by 2015.
What this means for jobs is unclear. An article in the Globe and Mail earlier this month reported that Pershing seeks to eliminate 3,000 jobs at CP.
“The employer says he’s going to slash 3,000 jobs, so people pay attention,” said Finnson. “I don’t know how they’re going to slash our jobs. They haven’t said anything about it so they must be talking about somebody else’s jobs.”
Hayman said he didn’t think Revelstoke jobs would be impacted. “You still need people to drive the trains,” he said.