TCRC Local 654 members join members of their union in strike action
Tim Brody - Editor
Conductors, Trainmen, and Yardpersons with Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) Local 654 in Sioux Lookout have joined members of their union across the country in strike action against their employer, Canadian National Railway (CN).
Strike action began on Nov. 19.
According to Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, outstanding issues surrounding member safety, fatigue, time off provisions and lifetime caps on benefits resulted in the strike action.
The union stated in a news release on Nov. 16, “Given a lack of progress at the bargaining table, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) last night served notice of intent to strike to Canadian National Railway (CN). The union hopes to reach a negotiated settlement that its members can ratify, and to move forward without a service disruption. “In the event that parties are unable to reach a negotiated settlement, over 3,000 conductors, trainpersons and yard workers will exercise their legal right to strike on Tuesday, November 19 at 0:01 a.m. ET.”
The news release went on to state, “CN currently requires TCRC members to operate trains alone from outside of the locomotive, hanging on to moving trains with one hand while operating a remotely controlled locomotive with the other. Railroaders are expected to do this in rain and in freezing temperatures, sometimes for distances of up to about 17 miles. “The union’s demands to cease these dangerous practices have fallen on deaf ears and the company has refused to come to a satisfactory agreement at the negotiations table to adjust their operating practices in the interest of safety. “The company also wants to make it more difficult to take time off and make employees work longer hours, in an attempt to get more work done with fewer people and to reduce staffing levels.” “Moreover, CN is demanding that the union accept a lifetime cap on prescription drug coverage which would be tantamount to denying workers – and their families – proper treatment for some forms of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and other diseases. Wages are not a major sticking point in these negotiations,” the news release went on to state.
CN Rail representative Jonathan Abecassis shared with The Bulletin, “The 3,200 TCRC-CTY affiliated employees at CN are on strike. CN has a small pool of qualified managers that only allows the company to operate at approximately 10% of normal service across its extensive 22,000 kilometre long Canadian network safely. Currently, very limited amounts of various commodities are moving across the country. This includes container traffic to keep Canada’s ports fluid to be able to return to normal operations after the strike.
“CN would like to thank its customers for their support and patience as well as its team of dedicated railroaders for their professionalism during this unfortunate labour dispute and assures them that the Company will be prepared to start recovering at the end of the strike.
“CN calls on the TCRC to accept voluntary binding arbitration by an independent third party selected jointly by CN and the TCRC, or by the Minister of Labour, as a means to end this labour dispute and return immediately to the business of moving the Canadian economy safely and efficiently.”
Mike Mccarl, Legislative Representative Local 654, Teamsters Canada Railway Conference, released the following statement: “Trains today are sometimes in excess of 2 1/2 miles long and utilize two crew members. This is in comparison to trains of about 1 mile long with 3 or 4 man crews. Because of this train length, today’s long trains can only meet opposing long trains at 3 locations between here and Winnipeg as compared to 23 locations with a “siding length train”.
“Between here and Armstrong there is only one location for oversiding trains to meet. This means that trains sit idle in sidings in remote locations for upwards of 3 hours or more, waiting for their opposition to clear. Some sidings have been abandoned meaning that trains have less locations to meet their opposition and thus have to wait idle for longer periods of time. Because of fuel conservation initiatives, trains are often underpowered or are restricted and cannot operate at authorized speed limits. With longer trains, you spend hours assembling and disassembling them as they no longer fit in one track. When they fit in one track, they are ready to go. Because of these changes, trains are slower and train conductors spend more time at work. The average trip to Winnipeg used to take about 8 ½ hours and now it seems closer to 11 or 12 hours.
“A Conductor’s workload is based on travelling a set number of miles each month. When a train sits idle for 3 hours at a time a conductor is not earning miles towards his workload. In other words, a conductor has to make the same number of trips each month only each trip takes longer. Perhaps 20- 25% longer. This means that since the advent of oversiding trains operating in both directions, conductors have to spend more time at work and away from home. The monthly mileage requirements have not changed. The current contract allows for conductors to request to be at a place of rest upon the expiration of their 10th or 11th hour of duty as the case may be. This is not always happening. Conductors are being told instead to keep on working. 11 hours may not seem like an unduly long day, but when you are expecting to go to work at 0700 and you get called unexpectedly at midnight, by 10 or 11 in the morning, you are fatigued. Conductors do not start work at a specific time. They don’t know exactly when they are going to work. They are given a 2 hour call before they have to go.”
“Fatigue has been recognized by the Transportation Safety Board as a major safety problem in this industry. Too many railroaders are operating trains when they should be resting,” explained the president of the TCRC, Lyndon 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.”