Workers with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference union picket in Quesnel near the Johnston Bridge and the Public Works yard Thursday, Nov. 21. The railworkers have been on strike since Monday at 9:01 p.m. PST. See story on page 3. Lindsay Chung photo

CN Rail unionized workers currently on strike

Workers have been without a contract since July 23

Canadian National Railways unionized conductors, train persons and yard workers, who have been without a contract since July 23, went on strike this week.

The Teamsters Canadian Rail Conference (TCRC) represents approximately 3,000 conductors, train persons and yard workers and says some of the outstanding issues in the negotiations with CN include safety, fatigue, time-off provisions, and lifetime caps on benefits.

TCRC had served strike notice to CN on Nov. 16, and in B.C., workers have been striking since Monday, Nov. 18 at 9:01 p.m.

In a statement posted on its website on Nov. 16, TCRC highlights its safety concerns for workers.

“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,” states the union. “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.”

TCRC is also concerned that CN is trying to get more work done with fewer people and reduce staffing levels by making employees work longer hours and making it harder to take time off.

“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,” stated TCRC president 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.”

The union says wages “are not a major sticking point” in these negotiations.

READ MORE: Ottawa urges CN and union to continue talks as 3,200 workers go on strike

The workers have been without a contract since July 23.

The most recent update from CN Rail states the company has proposed “viable solutions” for the safety concerns raised.

“We have local health and safety committees and a national senior policy committee, which have been functioning for decades and are comprised of senior union and company leaders,” CN Rail president and CEO J.J. Ruest said in an update posted on CN’s website Thursday, Nov. 21. “These well-functioning committees are designed to discuss both local and national issues and find solutions. As you may know, railcars may be coupled with the use of a remotely controlled locomotive while crews are safely positioned. No employee is ever asked to work unsafely. Any employee that feels fatigued or has safety concerns has a duty to report it and use alternative means to complete his/her assigned task safely. CN’s negotiating team and the operations experts on our committee feel that our demands are in line with improvements to our employees’ work environment and our customers’ business.”

Negotiations were continuing as of the Observer’s press deadline on Nov. 21.

“Negotiations continue with the help of the federally appointed mediators, and we remain committed to working with the union and the mediators in order to reach an agreement that is fair to all parties,” said Ruest. “We have also taken reasonable steps to end the economic impact by offering binding arbitration with a neutral arbitrator chosen by the parties or appointed by the federal government. Additionally, we have offered to continue bargaining until April 1, 2020, to allow more time to come to an agreement. Unfortunately, the TCRC-CTY leadership rejected these offers. While we continue to negotiate, we understand the employees’ decision and respect their right to picket peacefully, safely, and in a manner that does not disrupt or delay our operations.”

The B.C. Council of Forest Industries issued a statement Nov. 19 expressing significant concern about the impact of rail transport disruptions from the strike.

“Ninety per cent of the forest products we produce are sent to export markets in North America and around the world,” Susan Yurkovich, president and CEO of the B.C. Council of Forest Industries, said in a news release. “We rely on critical transportation infrastructure and reliable rail service to get our products to market and serve our customers. A disruption of this critical transportation network will adversely impact B.C. forest companies at a time when we are already facing significant challenges and increasing competition from around the globe … Forest products make up about 10 per cent of all rail traffic that moves through Western Canada, and in many cases, our members’ operations are in areas where rail service is the only economic transport option. We urge all parties to find immediate resolution.”

READ MORE: CN Rail strike and lack of trucking alternatives stoke forest industry fears

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