Unions threatening strike action against CP Rail

IBEW and Teamsters Canada Rail Conference seeking new collective agreements.

Another union representing signals and communications members employed by CP Rail have overwhelmingly voted for strike authorization on April 21 by a margin of 98 per cent.

The announcement, from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Canadian Signals and Communications System Council No. 11 (IBEW), follows an earlier announcement last week of strike vote authorization from the Teamsters Rail Conference of Canada, which represents locomotive engineers and conductors.

The IBEW represents members who protect the integrity of the railway signal system as well as maintain protection devices at crossings.

The IBEW, TCRC and CP Rail issued duelling press releases over the last few days, with both sides accusing the other of misrepresenting the state of the negotiations.

CP Rail first issued a press release on Friday last week, with CEO Keith Creel affirming his commitment to working with both the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference and the IBEW, noting that agreements have been made with three other unions with members employed by the company.

CP Rail claims that the IBEW has 85 outstanding issues as opposed to four from the company — demands that would add an additional $27 million over three years.

The IBEW union disputes CP claims, accusing the company of misrepresenting the financial impact of the outstanding bargaining issues and CP Rail’s priority of labour outreach.

The two sides have been in negotiations since September 2017, with the union having made revisions to their original proposals, while CP Rail stands firm on theirs, according to a IBEW press release.

“It is fair to say there is a significant gap between the parties and it is questionable to suggest that CP continues to engage in good faith bargaining,” said Steve Martin, Senior General Chairman of IBEW System Council No. 11. “In a true best effort to negotiate a fair and reasonable Memorandum of Settlement, the IBEW has maintained a willingness to continue bargaining without the intent of a work stoppage.”

According to the IBEW, CP Rail has attempted to defer bargaining to binding arbitration and accuses the company of forcing an inevitable work stoppage that would result in government intervention.

Both sides will meet again on Wednesday in Calgary to discuss issues such as the duration of a new collective agreement, expenses, company flexibility in hours of service, days off, and work/life balance, as well as other items.

However, the union admits there is no foreseeable settlement in the near future.

Creel says CP Rail is hopeful that fair agreements can be made with both the TCRC and the IBEW.

“People and safety are part of CP’s core foundations and we are committed to safe operations and a well-rested workforce is an important part of that,” Creel said. “We are more than open to considering scheduling and time off options with the TCRC, and have even proposed pilot projects to do that. However, any proposed changes need to work in concert with our commitment to our 12,000 strong CP family, customers, shareholders and the overall economy.”

The TCRC also fired back in response to CP Rail’s press release, accusing the company of manufacturing a crisis to spark government intervention and called for a return to the bargaining table.

“CP’s adversarial labour relations strategy has failed miserably. There is overwhelming evidence that this discipline based style of labour relations cannot function in Canada and has driven the parties apart,” said TCRC president Doug Finnson.

Across Canada, roughly 3,000 CP Rail employees are members of the TCRC, while the IBEW has roughly 318 members employed by the company.

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