By Andru McCracken
After a weeklong strike, the Teamsters and Canadian National (CN) reached a tentative agreement to renew the collective agreement for over 3,000 conductors and yard workers.
Normal operations were expected to resume 6am at November 27th across Canada.
“I am pleased to announce that we’ve reached a tentative agreement with CN. I would like to thank our members for their incredible courage and solidarity,” said the president of Teamsters Canada, François Laporte. “I would also like to thank all the Teamster local unions from across different industries, all the labour organizations and members of the public who supported us on the picket line.”
As of presstime Tuesday morning, the tentative agreement still had to be ratified via members. Before the voting period opens, union meetings will be held across the country to explain the terms of the agreement to members. The process usually takes several months.
It was easy to hear and feel the impact of the nationwide CN strike right here in our own communities. The whistle and rattle of trains has dropped precipitously since the Teamsters went on strike. McBride and Valemount were seeing about one tenth the number of trains that normally go through this area.
According to Teamsters Canada Rail Conference president Lyndon Isaak, one of the issues that the Conductors were fighting for is being able to take rest.
“When I go through Valemount at 2 am in the morning, I’m hauling a lot of dangerous stuff, like caustic soda, fuel… If I’m not on the ball, I could blow your town up.”
– CN engineer
“Too many railroaders are operating trains when they should be resting,” explained Isaak. “For the safety of all Canadians, we cannot allow CN to make it even harder for our members to get the rest they need.”
We spoke to an engineer, on condition of anonymity, who said the impacts of unsafe work practices could spell an end to an unlucky community like Valemount or McBride.
“When I go through Valemount at 2 am in the morning, I’m hauling a lot of dangerous stuff, like caustic soda, fuel… If I’m not on the ball, I could blow your town up,” he said. “I could literally blow your town up.”
“For the last four years, CN has been chipping away at the conductors’ agreement with regards to rest,” said the engineer. “They are likely to have the same philosophy when it comes to the engineers. This is not about money; it’s not about a wage increase.”
He believes the rail line is trying to get more work out of fewer employees.
“If they reduce the number of hours that an employee can take rest, they can increase profit,” he said.
It’s not the only issue Teamsters are fighting for, but it’s a main one.
The issue was put in a new light on Monday when the union released a recording of a conversation between a conductor and a manager.
The conductor told the manager that he and his engineer were exhausted and could no longer operate the train.
“My engineer is exhausted, I am exhausted,” said a conductor over a mobile radio.
A manager asks him if he is refusing duty.
“I’m not refusing duty… Tell [Transport Canada] why you are asking me to run this train in an unfit state, over.”
Management replies: “When you took your call you needed to be fit for 12 hours. Personal rest is not a […] safety issue. Knowing that, are you refusing to bring the train to the […] location? Over.”
The conversation continues, both the conductor and the manager dig in their heels.
“You are refusing to do [your job] and you are going to be managed accordingly. You will be pulled out of service pending an investigation,” said the manager.
The conductor replies:
“If I take this train somewhere now and we hit somebody, who is responsible? Me or you? I think it’s both of us.”