Rail strike averted, for now

A strike has been averted, at least temporarily, at Canadian Pacific Railway.

However, union leaders at Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), say it’s only a matter of time until their members walk off the job at CP.

On April 20, Canadian Labour Minister Patty Hajdu determined that CP workers should be required to ratify or reject a pair of final labour offers made by CP to members of TCRC and IBEW.

Terms of those offers were presented to union negotiators late last week, just hours before 3,400 workers were scheduled to go on strike.

In a statement, union leaders called CP’s offers “ridiculous” and strongly recommended that their members reject the deals through the federally mandated ratification process.

The date of the electronic ratification vote, to be facilitated by the Canadian Industrial Relations Board, has yet to be announced.

“Because of this new development, the Teamsters and the IBEW will postpone a strike until their members have had chance to vote on (CP’s offers),” the IBEW and TCRC said in a joint statement.

However, once CP’s offers are rejected, both unions will be free to exercise their rights to strike, the statement added.

“CP succeeded in delaying the inevitable,” added TCRC president Doug Finnson.

“The government will bring this ridiculous offer to our members and we strongly recommend that members vote against it…. CP can’t hide from us forever. Once our members reject their final offer, CP will have exhausted all possible escape routes and they will face their workers once again.”

In its own statement, CP called the offer and the mandated vote “tremendous news” for employees, customers and the Canadian economy.

“I want to thank the leadership of the TCRC, IBEW, and (federal mediators) for their hard work, collaboration and openness to getting this situation resolved without a work stoppage,” said CP president Keith Creel.

The company said it would immediately begin to execute a safe and structured start-up of its train operations in Canada.

“As a result of today’s announcement, there will be no disruption to the commuter rail companies operating on CP’s network and CP will be able to continue to provide safe and efficient freight service for our customers,” the company said.

Neither CP nor the unions released details of the offers, but union officials suggested they do not satisfy workers’ concerns on work schedules, fatigue or wages.

“The fact that CP thinks their offer has a chance in hell of being ratified shows how out of touch they are with their employees,” said Steve Martin, a senior general chair at IBEW.

“The company is in for a wakeup call.”

Approximately 3,000 train conductors and engineers at CP are represented by the TCRC. Roughly 360 signal maintainers at CP are members of the IBEW.

The unions said 94 percent of TCRC workers voted in favour of strike action earlier this month, along with 98 percent of IBEW members.

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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