June 8, 2007: What if your employer told you that your raises for the last two years were just a loan? That’s just what happened to rail Teamsters in the BLET.
The proposed national agreement between the BLET and the freight carriers says that cost-of-living adjustments for 2005 and 2006 were just loans from the carriers to the engineers—and the carriers want the money back.
That’s like turning the carriers into a pay-day loan store.
The Railroad Comes Collecting
Even worse, our national negotiating team is helping them collect. The proposed agreement will let the carriers deduct the “loan” from engineers’ retro checks.
If the contract passes, an engineer who worked 160 hours a month for the last two years will owe the carriers $1,749. But most engineers work more than that, and they could owe over $2,000.
Engineers have been waiting since 2004 for a new contract—and a wage increase. COLA raises have helped engineers keep up a little with inflation. It’s a real double-cross to have to pay back that money, especially when the carriers are making record profits.
“When we joined the Teamsters, our leaders said that they’d put Teamster Power to work for us,” said Chad Black, an engineer on the Union Pacific. “Now we’ve got to pay back our wage increases for the last two years. Our negotiators should never have agreed to that.”
Can’t we do better? The negotiators should have pushed to turn the COLA “loan” into a real raise. Instead, rail Teamsters got a weak contract—and a humiliating loan.
June 8, 2007: A strike on the Canadian Pacific Railway has entered its third week.
On May 16, over 3,200 track maintenance and construction workers walked off the job. The track workers are members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference.
The members say they want higher wages and stronger job security. CP wants to expand job duties.
The railroad has replaced striking maintenance workers with over 1,200 managers. But the strike has put a stop to new construction and expansion work.
This is the second major rail strike this year in Canada. In February, 2,800 United Transportation Union (UTU) conductors struck the Canadian National railroad. Members of the UTU on the CN are leading a drive to join the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference.
May 29, 2007: by Brent Jang from Transportaion Reporter: When Shayne Brighton started his job 28 years ago at Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., he didn't have to worry about toiling nights and weekends - shifts he has often worked in the past three years.
Mr. Brighton, 49, makes $24.24 an hour as a welder-fabricator at CPR. He went on strike with his 3,200 Teamsters union co-workers on May 16.
"CP Rail isn't offering us much in return for our hard work," Mr. Brighton said from Revelstoke, B.C.
He said his quality of life has been eroded by work demands that increasingly cut into what used to be his family time.
While he can make nearly $60,000 a year, including overtime, he said he and his colleagues are underpaid, given the growing work load for employees remaining after many years of layoffs.
CPR and Canadian National Railway Co. are running into union resistance to management attempts to broaden duties for employees, who would rather reap bigger rewards from the industry's prosperity.
After last year's record profit of $2.1-billion at CN and $796-million at CPR, employees complain that their ranks have been depleted by job cuts even as the rail sector thrives.
From 1994 to 2005, railway industry employment across Canada fell 35 per cent to about 35,400 people, or a loss of 19,000 jobs.
Average wages during the period rose 46 per cent to $72,000 a worker in 2005, says the Railway Association of Canada. The wage hikes average 3.5 per cent annually, outpacing the yearly inflation rate of 2 per cent.
The downward trend in jobs has continued, dipping below 35,000 positions last year, while the railways try to keep a lid on further wage increases.
Amid wage restraints and ongoing job cuts, 2007 has become the year of labour unrest in Canada's efficiency minded railway industry. A 15-day strike hit CN in February, and the CPR strike enters its 13th day today.
The CPR strike by track maintenance workers came just three months after 2,800 conductors and yard staff at CN staged their strike, upset at what they view as onerous demands to meet CN's quest to be a "precision railroad."
CPR has a different name for its efficiency drive, dubbing it an "execution excellence" campaign.
The corporate slogans refer to management's focus on forming daily schedules for rail cars, setting targets for departures and arrivals.
Other goals include reducing "terminal dwell time," where workers get trains ready to roll; part of the mission is to transport more freight in speedier fashion.
In the late 1990s, Montreal-based CN began emphasizing the importance of getting trains to leave at scheduled times.
CN has become the leader in the shift away from the common industry practice of a decade ago, when locomotives were forced to wait for enough goods to show up before moving on the rails.
Following CN's lead, Calgary-based CPR and other North American railways have embraced the concept of departing at specified times, even with light loads.
David Scott, 54, a CPR carpenter who makes $24.24 an hour, said wages aren't the only sticking point in the strike against CPR. Pensions, health benefits and work rules (notably management's proposal to expand work districts) are also contentious issues, he said on his cellphone, shortly before reporting for picketing duties in Montreal.
Mr. Scott has worked at CPR for more than 30 years, supporting his wife and their two daughters, now in their early 20s and still living at home.
"CP Rail is making money hand over fist, and they should share with us," he said.
Escalating imports of Asian goods, notably from China and India, and rising commodity exports have created bustling times in the railway sector over the past three years.
As the train business booms, unions are clashing with management's attempts to keep costs under control, said BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. analyst Randy Cousins.
He said that as baby boomers retire over the next decade, the railways will be able to shave labour costs further through natural attrition.
The industry has become more efficient, taking advantage of improvements in train technology and productivity gains such as growth in handling intermodal goods that are transferred in large containers between trains and ships, said Edward Jones & Co. analyst Daniel Ortwerth.
He said there was bound to be labour resistance to the railway sector's transition to becoming 24/7 operators.
"Change is hard," Mr. Ortwerth said.Click here to read the story at globeandmail.com
May 25, 2007:Rail Teamsters have launched a campaign to vote down the proposed national BLET agreement.
"It’s a bad deal. The new contract says we’ll pay more for our healthcare, and it says we owe the carriers thousands of dollars each,” said Ed Michael, a member of BLET Div. 724 on the Union Pacific. “We can do better. That’s why I’m voting No.”
Under the new agreement, engineers will pay 15 percent of their healthcare premiums every month. And there's no cap until 2010.
The new deal also means engineers will pay more at the doctor and the drug store. The contract raises co-pays for a doctor’s visit from $15 to $20 a visit. For a specialist, the cost goes up from $15 to $35. At the drug store, generics will go up from $5 to $10, and brand names from $10 to $20.
The new contract requires engineers to pay back their COLA raises since 2005. The new contract says that the raises were just a loan. If the contract passes, most engineers will pay more than $2,000. “What a joke,” Michael said. This amount will be deducted from their retro pay.
The new agreement may help the carriers expand remote control operation. A side agreement on the BNSF railway would allow engineers to operate a locomotive remotely with a belt pack out on the mainline when outside a company yard. The side agreement will only take effect if the majority of BNSF Teamsters vote for the national agreement.
Teamsters from TDU and Railroad Operating Crafts United (ROCU) are working to win a stronger agreement.
"Ballots are in the mail now. Now's the time to get the word out," said Ron Kaminkow, a member of BLET Div. 51 in Reno, Nev. "We're getting 'Vote No' flyers out in break rooms, on bulletin boards, and in locomotives. We're going to spread the word far and wide." Kaminkow is a member of ROCU's steering committee.
Help spread the word. Download a Vote No flyer from ROCU.
Build TDU’s rail network. Join TDU.
Support Rail Unity. Click here to register as a ROCU supporter.
May 21, 2007:Traffic World, Journal of Commerce: Unionized track maintenance workers with Canadian Pacific Railway went on strike Wednesday after contract talks failed to produce an agreement.
Canada's second-largest railroad deployed managers to replace the 3,200 striking workers, represented by the Teamsters. The railroad said Wednesday that train service was operating normally despite union pickets, Bloomberg reported.
Canadian Pacific, headquartered in Calgary, offered wage increases of 3 percent this year, 4 percent in 2008 and 3 percent in 2009. The union sought a 13-percent raise over the three-year period. The most recent contract expired in December.
Earlier this year, a series of strikes by 2,800 Canadian National conductors and yard workers represented by the United Transportation Union ended when Parliament passed back-to-work legislation.
In Ottawa, Labor Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn declined to answer questions from reporters about the possibility of back-to-work legislation in the Canadian Pacific dispute.
May 14, 2007: MONTREAL (Reuters) - Some 3,200 workers who maintain track at Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd, Canada's second-largest railway, are set to strike early on Wednesday, the company and union said on Saturday.
The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Maintenance of Way Employees Division said it had served a 72-hour strike notice on CP Rail over failed talks on wages and other issues.
The union represents about 3,200 employees who inspect, maintain and build the track, bridges and structures at CP Rail.
On Saturday, CP Rail said it had trained more than 1,300 employees who could replace the roughly 1,200 of its unionized workers who directly maintain track at the railway.
Other positions will not be replaced as they are associated with capital projects, which will be deferred, CP Rail said.
The union said calling the strike was "a sad day for the company and for the country."
William Brehl, the union's president, said in a statement he had hoped for a negotiated settlement.
"Now the company has forced us to go on strike, which will be devastating to the Canadian economy," he said.
CP Rail said the strike would not affect other unionized employees in Canada or the United States.
No further talks on a new three-year contract are scheduled between the two sides, the union said.
The national strike would be the third labor disruption in Canada's rail industry this year.
Last month, Canadian National Railway Co., Canada's largest railway, lifted its lockout of certain workers after lawmakers ordered an end to that labor dispute.
A 15-day strike by 2,800 conductors at CN Rail in February contributed to delays at the country's ports and hurt the value of manufacturing shipments.
May 9, 2007: Going back to the table gives the two unions a chance to fix problems in the proposed agreements.
On Feb. 28 the Rail Labor Bargaining Committee, a coalition of seven rail craft unions including the BLET and the BMWED, announced that they had reached a tentative agreement with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee. Rail members were supposed to vote on the contracts in April, and the agreements were to take effect in June.
But on April 5, the BLET admitted that they had only agreed to an outline of the proposed contract—not to specific contract language. When lawyers from both sides tried to hammer out the actual contracts, they found out that they could not agree on the specific language. So now the unions are back at the table.
The BLET and the BMWED have been bargaining for new contracts since 2004. Under the old agreements, the carriers have raised the cost of monthly employee healthcare premiums each year. Under the old BLET contract, engineers went from paying $100 a month in 2004 to $148 a month this year.
In a press release, BLET President Don Hahs said there are two outstanding issues that are preventing an agreement, but he wouldn’t say which issues.
Hahs insists on keeping members in the dark, saying, “Details of the agreement cannot be released until both parties have signed off on the final document.” Maybe Hahs should have been a little more careful before announcing the tentative deal in February.
The outlines released in February won’t bring healthcare costs under control. Instead, BLET and BMWED members will pay 15 percent of their monthly healthcare premiums, and the carriers can raise costs each year.
In 2006, the average cost of employer healthcare premiums increased by 7.7 percent—double the rate of inflation. That means healthcare costs for rail Teamsters could skyrocket. In 2010, monthly cost-shifting premiums are capped at $200 or the 2009 rate, whichever is higher.
For BLET members, the proposed outline will also eliminate the Harris Cost of Living Adjustment. Engineers did win one victory, though: the carriers dropped their demand for single-crew operations, at least for this round of bargaining.
Rail Teamsters are waiting to see what will change at the bargaining table. This new round of bargaining is our chance to fix the problems in the proposed agreements.
May 9, 2007: Teamster engineers on the CSX lines have ratified an agreement that swaps wage increases for performance bonuses.
Under this agreement, BLET members on the CSX won’t be covered by the national wage agreement with the carriers—and by the end of the agreement, their base wage rate will fall well behind the national rate.
Engineers will get a base pay increase of three percent and a $2,500 bonus at signing. They will receive a six percent bonus in 2007, eight percent in 2008, and 10 percent in 2009—but only if CSX reaches its financial goals.
At the end of the agreement, base pay will be the same as it was in the beginning. That means engineers will make no gains in wages over the life of the contract, and they’ll be starting from scratch when it’s time to negotiate a new contract.
In 2009, engineers under the national agreement will be making 18 percent more than they make now. CSX engineers will still only make three percent more in base pay, and they’ll get a 10 percent bonus if they’re lucky.
“We’ve tried a bonus system for a couple of years on the Norfolk Southern,” said Hugh Sawyer, local chairman of BLET Division 316 in Atlanta. “The problem is that you have no control over determining whether or not you hit the bonus. And at the end of the agreement, you’ve made no progress on your base wage. I’m not against bonuses—but they should be gravy on top of a decent wage increase.”
Apparently many CSX engineers thought giving up wage increases was a bad idea, too—over 40 percent of them voted to reject the new bonus plan. The new agreement won approval with a vote of 1,580 for and 1,113 against. The agreement covers CSX’s Eastern, Western, and Northern Lines, but not the Conrail SAA/CSXT general committee.
April 19, 2007: by Courtney Tower, Journal of Commerce : Rail operations at the Port of Vancouver were returning to normal Thursday as Canadian National Railway lifted its lockout of striking union employees after federal back-to-work legislation was signed into law.
The United Transportation Union said its members will return to work today by 6:55 p.m. Eastern Time (3:55 p.m. Pacific Time).
A total of 2,800 conductors and yard workers represented by the UTU called off rotating strikes at eight locations in British Columbia and Ontario. They gave written assurances that no strikes would be held while negotiations with CN resumed under a federal arbitrator.
The back-to-work legislation takes effect Thursday night, 24 hours following approval by both houses of Parliament Wednesday and formal final approval, known as royal assent.
The law bans strikes and lockouts while restarting negotiations with a 90-day deadline for a contract agreement. If no accord is reached, the arbitrator will impose a settlement -- either the union's or railroad's final offer.
"It is obvious that in the event one side holds out for the 'whole ball of wax,' that side does so at its peril," said UTU vice presidents John Armstrong and Bob Sharpe in a letter to union members. "In such a situation, it is virtually certain that the arbitrator would select the other side's final offer that would appear to the arbitrator as more reasonable.
They added that the 'final offer selection' process makes it "very difficult, if not impossible, to break new ground, or correct serious problems in a collective bargaining relationship. But it is also less likely that the employer will be able to successfully fragment our national collective bargaining structure."
About 300 workers had picketed terminals after members of the UTU on April 10 rejected a tentative one-year agreement that was reached in February following a costly two-week national strike. That proposal gave employees a three-percent pay increase and a C$1,000 (US$870) bonus but otherwise extended the previous contract agreement that had expired Dec. 31, 2006.
Glen Gower, chairman of a union local in the Toronto area, testified before the Senate on Wednesday that about 80 percent of the Cleveland-based UTU's members in Canada had signed cards saying they wanted to be represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, also based in the United States. Gower and all UTU local chairpersons from the midwestern province of Manitoba to the Atlantic coast had signed a letter directing UTU leadership to order a return to work and to resume negotiating with CN. They promised no strikes "for the foreseeable future," he said.
"We are not taking direction from the [U.S.] international [UTU headquarters], Gower said. "We don't feel that they speak on our behalf…we don't know who will be negotiating for us."
There is an application by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, before the Canada Industrial Relations Board to supplant the UTU as representative of the conductors and yard workers. The Teamsters also represent other CN employees.
Gower said that workers also want CN to address issues of working conditions. He said that CN's push for efficiency has stressed workers and created unsafe operating conditions.
Canadian National has argued that workers must be more flexible in hours of work and related working conditions.
April 12, 2007: New York Times: Labor disruptions again hit the Canadian National Railway after workers overwhelmingly rejected a tentative contract leading to pickets in lockouts in some cities.