BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Canadian Pacific Railway workers picket on the First Street Bridge over the railway lines on Monday morning.
Canadian Pacific Railway will have "a very disgruntled workforce" if the Conservative government’s back-to-work legislation is passed this week, says the local strike captain.
"It’s never good when the government intervenes in the collective bargaining process," said Ed Holleman, strike captain and local chairman for the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference. "It wouldn’t have been so bad if the company was actually bargaining for the last week, but they just waited out the clock … If they really want to reduce their operating ratios, they need us on their side."
Back-to-work legislation for 4,800 striking CP Rail workers was introduced Monday by the federal government, which said Canada’s entire economy was at risk along with the country’s international reputation.
"Simply put, the strike can’t go on," Labour Minister Lisa Raitt told the House of Commons. "We need to get the trains running again."
Raitt said she expects the railroad’s freight service to be back in business by Thursday. The government is limiting debate on the back-to-work bill and will speed it through the Commons and Senate.
This is the third time in the last year the Harper government has intervened in a national labour dispute.
Holleman and about 120 other Brandon-based rail workers have been picketing outside of the CP Rail office on Pacific Avenue since the cross-country strike began last Wednesday. Mediated contract talks between the railway and the Teamsters union representing locomotive engineers and conductors collapsed Sunday.
"The guys are very disenfranchised about the whole process," Holleman said. "They were all hoping that the company would actually sit down and bargain. We’re willing to listen to options, but they never threw any options at us, they just wanted one thing, they wanted to cut the pensions and we never even had the chance to talk about anything else."
The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference says the company is demanding up to a 40 per cent cut in the earned pensions of unionized employees, after posting a $570-million profit last year.
"We’ve spent our entire careers paying for this, contributing to this and relying on this (pension plan)," Doug Finnson, union vice-president and chief negotiator, told a news conference on Parliament Hill.
"And because the shareholders want increased value, they want to squeeze it out of our pension plan and then put it over to the shareholders."
Holleman, a 32-year CP Rail employee, said "it’s a shame that a corporation that makes so much money would be after our pensions that we paid for ... I’ve been paying in for over 31 years right now at a high rate, almost double what the (Canadian National Railway) guys pay and they want to steal our pensions back, to match that of CN, which would have been all fine and dandy if it was all a level playing field," he said.
Canadian Pacific Railway spokesman Ed Greenberg said once the legislation passes, "our company will shift our attention to fully preparing for a timely and disciplined ramp-up in operations with a view to achieve full production levels as soon as possible for the benefit of all our customers."
The legislation gives a federally appointed arbitrator 90 days to impose a deal on the company and workers. In the meantime, unionized employees go back to work under the old contract.
Job action is prohibited — either strike or lockout — with fines of up to $50,000 on individuals and $100,000 on the union or company.
» email@example.com, with files from The Canadian Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 29, 2012