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.
The UTU International has called a rotating strike, starting with CN sites in Oakville, Ontario and Vancouver and Kamloops, British Columbia. The UTU hasn’t said when other CN trainmen will join them on the picket lines.
This strike is the second time UTU members have walked out this year. On Feb.10, UTU members went on strike on all CN lines in Canada.
Members and their local leaders stood strong in February, but the UTU International refused to endorse the strike. The strike ended only after International President Paul Thompson canned the strike leaders and agreed to a substandard settlement with the CN.
Thompson’s proposed agreement was the same as the company’s last offer before the strike. With four out of five voters rejecting the agreement, UTU members couldn’t be clearer about what they think of Thompson’s negotiating skill.
Since the February strike, many UTU members have been pushing to leave the UTU and join the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference. How the UTU leadership handles this strike may determine if the CN trainmen stay or leave the UTU.
April 11, 2007: Canadian National Railway Co.'s 2,800 union conductors and yard workers rejected a proposed one- year contract from the country's biggest railroad and voted to strike.
The United Transportation Union, representing 2,800 CN conductors and yard workers in that country, planned to release the count at 5 p.m. eastern time, amid indications that many union members might reject the tentative one-year contract.
The UTU struck CN for two weeks in February before the two sides reached a deal that sent union members back to work. However, the strike technically remained in effect with job actions suspended pending the union vote, so if workers do not accept the deal the union would resume strike activity within hours.
The UTU has said if members reject the contract it would probably use a "rolling strike" of selected outages this time instead of a full-scale walkout. CN spokesman Mark Hallman said if that happens the company as before would use managers to keep trains running.
"CN will work very hard to maintain service to its customers," Hallman said, but he noted that CN's service level would be affected by the frequency and severity of any labor disruptions.
The February strike cut into plant and port activity and triggered layoffs among customers, and the government asked Parliament to end the strike and put the talks under arbitration that could impose a settlement. But the strike ended before the lawmakers voted on the measure, and Parliament is now adjourned until next week.
The UTU vote is complicated with a drive by former UTU-Canada leaders to have union members join the Teamsters, which already represents CN train engineers, and reject the UTU contract with CN. The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference says a majority of CN's UTU members signed application cards with that other union.
CN recently warned that its first-quarter earnings would not meet earlier expectations, because of the strike plus unusually severe and recurring weather problems. If the strike picks back up, this time it would affect second-quarter operations.
by John D. Boyd
April 2, 2007: Last month’s strike on the Canadian National shows why we need to have unity on the rails—and why having a democratic union is so important.
Over 2,800 trainmen, members of the United Transportation Union, went out on strike Feb. 10. They stayed out for two weeks, and their strike had a huge impact on the Canadian economy. With support from the UTU International and solidarity from other rail unions, they may have won their strike.
Unfortunately, Canadian labor law says that the engineers, who are members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, had to stay on the job for the duration of the strike. If the trainmen and the engineers were members of the same union, the engineers could have legally honored the trainmen’s picket line and shut down the line completely.
Even worse, the UTU International refused to support the strike, and removed the elected Canadian leadership in the middle of the fight. In hearings before the Canadian Industrial Relations Board, the UTU International sided with the company against the strikers.
After canning the local leaders, the UTU International forced a tentative deal identical to the company’s last offer before the strike. We will know on April 10 if the UTU members accept or reject the deal.
With the strike called off, many members of the UTU in Canada are proposing to leave the UTU and to sign up with the Teamsters. They are collecting cards to force a certification election.
I can understand why conductors in Canada are fed up with the UTU International. Their own International officers pulled the plug on the strike and are now trying to force through a tentative agreement which appears to be a bad deal for the membership.
But unity on the rails can’t start with one union raiding another. In the past few years, the UTU tried to force a “winner-take-all” election on the Union Pacific, while the BLET led an A-card drive on the Norfolk Southern. Thankfully, both campaigns have now been called off. But they have left behind division and bitterness.
I understand why some railroaders would like to leave one union and try out another. But are we really going to win more power for railroaders that way? I don’t think so.
That’s why I’m working to build Railroad Operating Crafts United (ROCU). We are a group of engineers and conductors nationwide from both unions who are working together for a democratic, rank-and-file merger of the BLET and the UTU. We believe in unity from the bottom-up, a complete and total merger of equals, and a union that empowers the membership to fight against our one true adversary—the carriers.
And that’s why I am also working with Teamsters for a Democratic Union. TDU has 30 years experience in the fight to further democracy and membership control of the Teamsters, which my union—the BLET—is now affiliated.
Either way the certification fight winds up in Canada, the trainmen up there have my support. Now’s the time for rank-and-file conductors and engineers to put the past behind us and to start working together to put our unions on the right track.
—Ron Kaminkow is a member of BLET Div. 51 at Amtrak in Reno, Nev.
April 2, 2007: After three years of working without a national contract, the BLET announced a deal with the National Carriers’ Conference on March 5. The new deal eliminates COLA and allows the carriers to pass along health care costs to Teamster engineers.
The BLET has not released the full proposed agreement—only a two-page summary.
Here’s what we know so far:
Wages: Engineers will get a 3 percent wage increase when the deal goes into effect on July 1. That’s on top of a 5.5 percent retroactive wage increase for 2005 and 2006. Wages will go up 4 percent in 2008, and 4.5 percent in 2009.
COLA: The new deal eliminates the cost-of-living adjustments completely.
Health and welfare: Co-pays go up from $15 to $20 for family doctor visits and from $15 to $35 for specialists. Engineers will pay 15 percent of their monthly health-care premiums, up from 14.2 percent. The carriers will adjust these premiums each January of the agreement.
Single-crew operation squashed: The carriers withdrew their requests for single-crew operation and other work rule changes.
“Cost of living—that’s the real sleeper issue,” said Ed Michael, an engineer on the Union Pacific. “If inflation stays low, we won’t feel it too bad. But if anything goes wrong, it’s going to eat our lunch.”
The new contract also fails to control health care costs, a big issue for engineers. In 2006, the average cost of employer health care premiums increased by 7.7 percent—double the rate of inflation. Under the old contract, engineers went from paying $100 a month in 2004 to $148 a month this year.
Under the new contract, the carriers will pass along 15 percent of their total health care cost to employees, and they can raise their rates each January. The contract caps the amount at $200, but only in 2010. There are no other caps. And the rate can go above $200 if the rates in 2009 are higher than that amount.
“Most engineers won’t find out the details of this contract until they get their ratification ballots,” said Harvey Evans of BLET Division 724. “But we need real answers about COLA and health care. Why did the union give up COLA? We’ve been bargaining for three years—can’t we do better than this?”