A train passes through the Mackenzie Avenue crossing after rail traffic started up again on Friday.

Trains back on track after back-to-work legislation passes

Back-to-work legislation passes through Parliament, forcing striking CP Rail workers back to the trains.

The trains will starting moving again sometime early Friday morning after back-to-work legislation passed through Parliament on Thursday afternoon.

CP Rail said it expects it to take 12 hours to get operations back underway now that the legislation has passed.

The legislation, dubbed the Restoring Rail Services Act, was introduced in the House of Commons by Labour Minister Lisa Raitt on Monday. It was passed by the House on Wednesday and by the Senate on Thursday.

The legislation forces the striking CP workers back to work and calls for an arbitrator to determine a new labour agreement. There are heavy fines for violations.

Doug Finsson, a vice-president and negotiator with Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, said the union was generally supportive of the legislation.

“This legislation doesn’t seem to favour one party or the other, which was the criticism some of the features in previous legislation,” he said in a press conference on Monday, referring to previous government back-to-work bills. “In my opinion, what this does is it places a significant emphasis on who the arbitrator is, who’s selected do they have experience and knowledge of the federal sector in pension issues, in rail issues. Really, I think the focus is going to be on who the arbitrator is.”

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents about 4,800 CP Rail engineers and conductors across Canada, including about 340 in Revelstoke, has been on strike since last Wednesday.

The back-to-work legislation was not a surprise to local union officials. “We’re used to it,” said Les Daley, the chairman of the local engineers during a rally by local union members last Friday, before the legislation was introduced.

CP Rail said it expects to have its trains running by around 5 a.m. Friday morning. It is expected to take 48 hours for operations to be back to normal.

The Federal government put the cost of the strike to the Canadian economy to about $540 million per week.

Employee pensions have emerged as the biggest issue in negotiations, with the company looking to roll back pensions by as much as 40 per cent, according to union officials. CP says it has spent $1.9 billion over the last three years on reaching its pension commitments and is looking for a system closer to that of CN Rail, which caps pensions at $60,000 per year.

The union has said that comparison is flawed, as CN employees opted for higher wages and lower pensions, while CP employees went the opposite route.

“The real issue here is an unsustainable defined benefit pension plan, one that jeopardizes the near-term and long term viability and competitiveness of our company,” said Peter Edwards, CP’s Vice-President of Human Resources and Industrial Relations, in an address to the Senate on Thursday.

Fatigue management is also an issue, with the union looking for steadier scheduling and the ability to book more time off.

The strike has left an eerie silence in Revelstoke, with the familiar clang and screech of the trains gone. It has also benefited some local businesses that have seen a huge spike in businesses as the Rocky Mountaineer tourist train has brought busloads of tourists to Revelstoke. Normally the train doesn’t stop here but the buses have been making stops for lunch.

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