CANADA’S federal government was expected to introduce back-to-work legislation on Monday aimed at forcing striking Canadian Pacific (CP) railway employees to return to their jobs.
Talks broke down on Sunday afternoon between the Teamsters Canada union representatives and CP management. Both sides rejected a proposal made by a government-appointed arbitrator.
The 4,800 workers began a legal strike last Wednesday, walking off the job and shutting down CP’s freight service across the country. But talks have continued after Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, under pressure from farmers to move grain, gave notice that Ottawa would legislate the employees back to work as early as Monday if the two sides couldn’t reach their own deal.
A Teamsters statement on Sunday said: ‘The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is no longer involved in the negotiations process between Canadian Pacific (CP) and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) since 1400 Eastern Time.
‘There is no other meeting planned with CP for the moment. In brief, the talks are stalled. Unfortunately, the company negotiated in bad faith despite Minister Raitt’s wishes’, said Doug Finnson, Vice-President of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference. Canadian Pacific was hiding behind the Federal Government since the very beginning of the process.’
The union statement contined: ‘The Teamsters Union made sure that the commuter trains in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal were operated properly and had no impact on the commuters. Let’s recall that CP rail disagreed with this proposal at first, but changed their mind after a meeting with Minister Raitt. It appears that the strike will continue as long as the back to work legislation is not passed. We know a back-to-work legislation is unavoidable, explained Finnson. ‘But the fatigue management issues will have to be addressed because it could have important consequences on the members.’
Teamsters Canada’s President Robert Bouvier is outraged by the attitude shown toward those who make the success of the rail company. He said on Sunday: ‘Canadian Pacific wants to tackle a pension plan that workers have accumulated over years of hard work. The company is hiding behind the usual excuse: i.e. that the company should be more and more profitable. Meanwhile, the workers suffer the consequences!’
The union noted: ‘CP proposed significant reductions for TCRC’s members. Meanwhile management within the same pension plan are scheduled for increases despite contributing nearly half of what our members contribute.’
A Saturday union statement had said: ‘Negotiations are ongoing with Canadian Pacific (CP) and will likely continue through the weekend. The Teamster Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) bargaining committee is meeting with conciliators and with the employer today. Pensions, fatigue management and work rules are still at issue.’
TCRC vice-president Doug Finnson said: ‘I can’t help but wonder if the proxy battle within the CP Board of Directors has some life left in it. I get the sense there is a conflict behind the scenes and it may now be affecting the CP bargaining position at a critically important time.’
Finnson commended the behaviour of the workers on the picket lines. ‘No incident has been reported,’ he said. ‘The 5000 workers we represent are disciplined. I’m very proud of them.’
Dozens of photos were posted on the Teamsters Canada Twitter page, and moral is high among the striking workers. ‘Thanks to the support from our members, we stand united and strong,’ said Finnson.
Teamsters Canada president Robert Bouvier has an explanation on what is behind CP’s attempt to reduce pensions. He declared: ‘I think there’s only one reason they’re asking for these concessions: to further enrich a handful of shareholders at the expense of workers. CP workers strike is in a way a battle for all Canadian workers.’
Last Thursday, a union statement announced: ‘Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) president Rex Beatty is 100 per cent behind the 4,800 CP workers who have been off the job since 0001 a.m. Wednesday.’ The battle these workers are waging is of utmost importance,’ said Beatty. ‘CP is trying to drastically cut pensions, but we’re going to do our best not to let them do it.’
The National Union of Public and government Employees (NUPGE) on Monday urged support for the striking Teamsters. It called on members: ‘Send an email to Labour Minister – back-to-work legislation doesn’t work!’
‘The government’s repeated attempts to undermine the bargaining position of workers – from airlines, to postal service to rail service – through back-to-work legislation is a violation of workers’ fundamental right to free collective bargaining.’ James Clancy, NUPGE National President.
A NUPGE statement said: ‘After securing a 95 per cent mandate, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), which represents some 4,800 workers at Canadian Pacific, are off the job after management at Canadian Pacific refused to remove several concessions from the bargaining table.
‘The union has been open about its commitment to negotiate a fair deal in order to end the strike but with federal back-to-work legislation already in the wings, it is unclear if this will happen. On Tuesday, May 22, the night before the strike began, Minister Lisa Rait indicated that she was optimistic a deal could be reached. When asked whether or not she was working on back-to-work legislation, she suggested she was letting negotiations take their natural course.
‘Within 24 hours, she warned both sides to adopt one of three options – reach a deal, go volunarily to binding arbitration, or accept 120 days of further mediation – or face back-to-work legislation. This knee jerk reaction to labour disputes is typical of the Conservative government and this minister,’ says James Clancy, National President of the 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).
‘The Conservatives have no idea how to resolve conflict only know how to rachet it up,’ Clancy continued. ‘In threatening this back-to-work legislation, they have just given CP no real reason to sit at the table and negotiate fairly. It’s a clear and growing sign that workers cannot trust this government to operate in good faith.
‘The National Union stands in solidarity with the 4,800 striking Teamsters in their fight for a fair settlement, which includes a strong and decent pension plan. You are fighting not only for yourselves but for the retirement security of all workers.’
Separately, Clancy condemned Quebec’s Bill 78, calling it a repressive law which imposes unconstitutional limits on the fundamental rights and freedoms of assembly, association and expression.
NUPGE is urging the Charest government to agree to independent mediation to help resolve the ongoing dispute with students in Quebec.
More than 170,000 post-secondary students have been on strike for 15 weeks over the government’s decision to increase tuition fees by 75 per cent over the next 5 years.
Since the start of the dispute the government has refused to negotiate in good faith and instead has sought court injunctions and used threats in an attempt to force students back to school. Just last Friday, the government rammed emergency legislation (Bill 78) through the National Assembly which sets strict regulations governing public protests and student groups that organize them, including heavy financial penalties (up to $125,000) for violations.
NUPGE National President Clancy condemned Bill 78, calling it a ‘repressive law which imposes unconstitutional limits on the fundamental rights and freedoms of assembly, association and expression.
‘All Canadians should be shocked and concerned by the Charest government’s attack on the fundamental rights of students and all Quebecers."
‘Bill 78 has only escalated the dispute. The Charest government must stop bullying students, rescind the legislation and agree to help from an independent mediator.’
For the last twenty years, NUPGE has called on the federal government to pass legislation (a Canada Post-Secondary Education Act) to establish criteria which would ensure the affordability, accessibility, quality, accountability and public administration of post-secondary education across the country. The evidence is clear that sky-high tuition fees and debt increase income inequality and harm Canada’s society and economy