A strike by CP Rail engineers and conductors ended Monday less than two days after workers took to the picket lines across the country.
The end of the strike was announced by Kellie Leitch, the Federal Minister of Labour, Monday morning, who told reporters in Ottawa the two sides had agreed to arbitration.
The announcement was followed by statements from CP Rail and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference.
The move came moments before Leitch was set to table back-to-work legislation in Parliament.
“We took this strike action to improve the quality of life and the working conditions for our membership,” said Doug Finnson, the president of the TCRC in a news release. “Our preference is to negotiate these improvements through collective bargaining, and the worst thing that could happen is a legislated process.These issues are far too important to our members to have a legislated process decide the issue.
“Consequently the better option is to use a fair mediation and arbitration dispute resolution in front of an independent arbitrator, where we can demonstrate that our plan is a proven fatigue management system which is highly regarded for a long time and is far superior to what the employer seeks to obtain.”
TCRC represents about 3,300 workers across Canada, including about 175 in Revelstoke.
Pickets were taken down Monday afternoon and rail traffic was set to resume Tuesday morning.
John Kiengersky, one of the chairmen for the Revelstoke local, said members were disappointed by the news.
“There’s a lot of big concerns the members have,” he said. “They were hoping that through the process of the democratic right to picket that these issues were going to be dealt with.”
A CP Rail news release said the federal government would appoint an arbitrator.
“This decision ensures both sides will get back to the table, and gets us back to moving Canada’s economy forward,” said E. Hunter Harrison, CP’s Chief Executive Officer. “While we would have preferred a negotiated settlement, this is the right thing to do at this time.”
The 1.5 day strike began Sunday at midnight when engineers and conductors set up picket lines outside rail yards across the country. In Revelstoke, they set up in the CP parking lot on Victoria Road.
Finnison announced the strike with a news release 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.
Harrison 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.
On Sunday, Leitch, who involved herself in the bargaining late in the week, issued a statement accusing the union of stifling progress in negotiations and calling on it “to cease all strike action and immediately return to the negotiating table.”
“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,” she stated.
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.
“The primary issue that we’re striking for is fatigue management,” said Kiengersky while on the picket line on Sunday. “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.”