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Vol. 79/No. 7      March 2, 2015

Facing gov’t threats, Canadian
rail workers end strike

CALGARY, Alberta — Safety is at the heart of the battle of more than 3,000 rail workers against the drive of Canadian Pacific Railway to increase their profits at the expense of the well-being of workers, people who live along rail tracks and nature.

The Teamsters-organized engineers, conductors, trainmen and yardmen went on strike at 12:01 a.m. Feb. 15 against Canadian Pacific, one of Canada’s two major railways transporting freight across the continent.

Facing moves by the Conservative Party government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to impose back-to-work legislation, union officials decided to end the strike and agreed to mediated arbitration with the company.

Teamsters Canada Rail Conference President Douglas Finnson released a statement Feb. 15, saying the union went on strike “to achieve a healthy and safe work environment for the working people.”

“The current contract says we have rest time after 10 hours on the job,” Chris Yeandel, a locomotive engineer and chairman of the health and safety committee at the Montreal Côte St. Luc Canadian Pacific rail yard, told the Militant on the picket line, “but they violate that all the time. A lot of us are working 12, 13 hours with no break.”

Several strikers were wearing vests saying in French, “Fatigue kills.”

“We’re not out for money,” Yeandel said. “We’re trying to keep what we already have in terms of rest time and on the job safety. The company is demanding change in contract language so that now when forced to work 12 hours, it’s in the contract,” he said.

The federal government acted rapidly to support the rail bosses, threatening to put a law ending the strike before Parliament Feb. 16.

“I am incredibly disappointed that the TCRC failed to reach an agreement with CP Rail. Due to this reckless disregard for Canadians and the Canadian economy, our government will review all available options to end any work-stoppage expediently,” Labor Minister Kellie Leitch said in a statement after the strike began.

The government pulled the legislation after the Teamsters agreed to arbitration.

“Minister Leitch, she really picked one side fast,” Derrel Sundholm, an engineer and president of Division 355 of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, told the Calgary Herald Feb. 16 as he and other strikers packed up their picket signs.

“CP Rail doesn’t have to negotiate seriously when they know that the government is going to legislate us back to work,” Jason Hnatiuk, an engineer and picket captain in Vancouver, British Columbia, told the Militant. “It takes away our right to strike.”

The contract fight takes place in the context of a growing number of train derailments and increased transport of highly volatile Bakken crude oil by rail. In the first 11 months of 2014, 27 trains derailed in Alberta, nearly double the yearly average over the last five years. In 2013, 47 people died in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, when an oil train derailed and exploded.

Canadian Pacific runs into Chicago and other U.S. cities along the border. The railroad’s bosses threatened its U.S.-based engineers with disciplinary action — including termination — if they refused to cross picket lines when they took trains into Canada.

“We are also receiving reports that CP is forcing U.S.-based train crews to operate trains with hazardous commodities over Canadian territories they are not familiar with,” Dennis Pierce, U.S. president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and president of the Teamsters Rail Conference (U.S.) told the press Feb. 15. “This blatant disregard for the safety of BLET’s membership and the general public must stop.”

Katy LeRougetel in Calgary, Alberta; Frank Forrestal in Minneapolis; Mike Barker and Steve Penner in Vancouver, British Columbia; and John Steele in Montreal contributed to this article.
Related articles:
Oil workers: ĎOn strike for safer job conditionsí
Walkout in interest of whole working class
Oil train derails, explodes, fouling river in WVa
West Coast dock bosses lock out port workers, attack union
On the Picket Line
Conferences in March to discuss fight for rail safety
No govít intervention in labor battles!
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