News & Reviews News Wire Teamsters Canada calls for strike authorization vote by CN and CPKC train crews (updated)

Teamsters Canada calls for strike authorization vote by CN and CPKC train crews (updated)

By Bill Stephens | April 1, 2024

| Last updated on April 2, 2024

Labor and management remain far apart on a new contract deal for engineers and conductors in Canada

Email Newsletter

Get the newest photos, videos, stories, and more from brands. Sign-up for email today!

After bringing a Vancouver-bound stack train into Boston Bar, British Columbia, a Canadian National train crew member heads for the nearby bunk house in September 2023. Bill Stephens

The union representing Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Kansas City engineers and conductors in Canada has authorized a strike vote as labor and management remain far apart on new contracts.

Leaders of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference told their members on Thursday that a strike vote will be held from April 8 to May 1. If the rank and file vote to authorize a strike, the earliest a walkout or lockout could occur on CN and CPKC in Canada is May 22.

After being unable to reach agreements during negotiations that began last fall, labor and management since March 1 have been negotiating with the help of federal conciliators. Also still negotiating: CPKC rail traffic controllers who are represented by TCRC in Canada.

Both CN and CPKC have proposed abolishing the traditional mileage-based pay system for train and engine crews and replacing it with an hourly wage. Both railways also say they want to create predictable work schedules for train crews, including scheduled days off, that would meet tighter Transport Canada Duty and Rest Period Rules that went into effect last year.

“During the conciliation period, the parties will continue meeting to reach a negotiated agreement, and it remains our goal to work towards a negotiated agreement that is good for our employees, customers, and the economy,” CN said in an update last week. “We value our relationship with unions representing CN employees and will continue to negotiate in good faith with the TCRC union leaders. Additionally, CN remains committed to modernizing the contract to ensure employees are satisfied – both with financial compensation and with work-life balance.”

CN says its hourly wage proposal would boost engineer pay by an average of 15.5% while including guaranteed minimum annual earnings. Train crew schedules would include either two or three consecutive days off.

CPKC has offered similar options for renewed contracts:

Option 1: “The first delivers significant pay increases and improved work-life balance with scheduled, predictable days off through a dramatically simplified system. The offer presents a progressive, modern time-based pay model that delivers improved benefits for employees.”

Option 2: “With the exception of our proposal amending the held away from home provision for train crews, the second option offers competitive wage increases that are consistent with recent settlements and maintains the status quo for work rules within the new Transport Canada regulatory framework for rest.”

CPKC says the proposals recognize the needs of an evolving workforce, the railway’s customers, and Canada’s supply chains. “If redundant and archaic work rules are dissolved, employees would benefit from a modern agreement that enables higher wages and predictable, scheduled time off, while fully complying with new regulatory requirements for rest,” CPKC says.

“After years of disruption caused by a pandemic, natural disasters, other labour disruptions and political events both in Canada and around the world, the North American supply chains we collectively serve require stability and predictability,” CPKC says. “Canada’s supply chains simply cannot tolerate endless uncertainty from stalled collective bargaining.”

The TCRC says the CN and CPKC hourly rate proposals would mean a pay cut for half of their membership, strip away “every quality of life provision attained through years of fighting,” and make seniority redundant by eliminating the distinction between road and yard crews.

The union also says that the railways aim to strip collective agreements of what it calls “safety-critical rest provisions.”

“The specific articles are meant to help ensure workers are rested enough to operate a train. The science on crew fatigue is settled and the threat is real. Our union will not bargain with Canadian lives,” TCRC spokesman Christopher Monette says.

“Claims by CN and CPKC that the companies are proposing predicable work schedules are also inaccurate,” he adds. “Instead, both CN and CPKC have proposed 12-hour calling windows, during which workers could be phoned up at any time and expected to go operate a train for another 12 hours. This could easily become dangerous if a person who woke up at 7 a.m. is called for a 12-hour shift at 5 p.m.”

In an update to members last week, TCRC said no progress has been made on contract talks. The union also claimed CN and CPKC are negotiating in bad faith, in violation of Canadian labor laws.

More talks are scheduled this month.

TCRC’s contract with the railways expired at the end of 2023 but remains in force until new deals can be reached and ratified. The union represents 6,000 CN engineers and conductors and 3,200 CPKC engineers and conductors.

A strike would halt the shipment of $1 billion worth of goods in Canada per day, according to RailState, a company that monitors freight trends across Canada using a network of sensors located near CN and CPKC main lines.

“After a complete shutdown or even more minor disruption, rail customers cannot rely on the railroads to expand capacity to make up for shipments that were missed during a shutdown,” RailState said in a report last month. “There is no extra service coming in to save the day.”

RailState advised rail customers to ship early, find alternative routes, or shift to trucking in order to avoid disruption from a potential strike.

Note: Updated at noon Central time on April 2 with additional comments from TCRC.

One thought on “Teamsters Canada calls for strike authorization vote by CN and CPKC train crews (updated)

  1. Once again, unions can’t see the forest through the trees. They’ll shoot themselves in the foot to keep the status quo when it obviously doesn’t benefit the growth of the industry.

You must login to submit a comment