In an aggressive move to lock out over 3,000 striking workers, Canada’s second biggest railway operator has shut down its services in the country. The halting of services by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail) began on Sunday, March 20, the same day that the nationwide strike announced by railway workers was set to begin.
The strike action organized by Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) was overwhelmingly supported by the workers, including locomotive engineers, conductors, trainpersons and yardpersons, with nearly 96.7% of the 3,062 workers voting for the strike last month.
The vote came after months of failed negotiations for a new work contract. Workers have been calling for better wages and resisting proposed cuts to pensions and benefits as well as changes in the work rules.
After announcing the results of the vote on March 4, the union announced that the strike action will take place. This was after the required government-mediated negotiations through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), that ended on March 16, failed to yield results. The issues remained unsolved despite the government acting as a mediator through the FMCS process.
But before the union could put up a formal 72-hour notification of the strike, CP Rail announced a shutdown of services across Canada on March 17 citing uncertainty associated with “potential labor disruption” and for “bringing this uncertainty to an end.”
The TCRC leadership responded that the company’s actions were expected and blamed the management for its reluctance to negotiate with the workers. “It was well known that CP was going to force a work stoppage and lockout our members. They have done just that,” said TCRC spokesperson Dave Fulton in response to the lockout announcement.
“At the bargaining table, (CP Rail) continues to dismiss our members’ demands and are unwilling to negotiate the issues they have created,” argued Fulton. The union has repeatedly accused CP Rail of poor behavior at the bargaining table and of complete reluctance to negotiate on the demands set out by the workers.
Despite the shutdown, the union held the strike as planned on Sunday, with pickets organized in different parts of the country, including in cities like Montreal and Toronto. Apart from wages and benefits, a major issue that workers have raised in the negotiations is CP Rail insisting on having a unilateral say in work rules.
According to the union, the company is trying to push for federally-mandated reset breaks for rail workers, intended for work at home terminal to away-from-home terminal. The union is also resisting the company’s push for work arrangements that would have one-person train crews that would burden the workers overall.
The union argued that such control over work rules would extend time spent en route at a stretch up to 32 hours. “Our members want respect and a fair contract. They want to work, but they also want to be able to spend time with their families and rest. That’s the least CP can do,” Fulton said in a TCRC statement on March 18.
CP Rail owns over 20,000 km of rail route in North America, with services that not only stretch across southern Canada but also to eight States in the US. The rail company is a major transporter of grain in southern Canada and central US, and also the primary transporter of chemical fertilizers like Canadian potash which are essential to large parts of US and Canadian agribusinesses.