Last-minute negotiations end strikes at CP Rail

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Canadian Pacific (CP) Rail has been pulled back from the brink of major labour unrest, after reaching tentative resolutions with two unions.

Unifor and Teamsters Canada, the unions that represent workers at CP, were both engaged in heated negotiations with the railway company. Contracts with both unions had expired on December 31, 2014.

Unifor Local 101R represents 1,800 safety, maintenance and repair workers at CP in 18 different locations. The union had been negotiating with the company since September, 2014, and had issued a strike notice for February 15 at 12:01 a.m.

According to Unifor, the two parties reached a tentative agreement minutes before the deadline.

The union is currently meeting with local presidents and workplace chairpersons to review the contents of the agreement. Ratification meetings will then be scheduled in locations across the country over the next three weeks. The union says that details of the agreement will only be disclosed following ratification. 

The Teamsters have yet to reach an agreement for their 3,300 locomotive engineers, conductors, trainmen and yardmen.

On Sunday February 15, the Teamsters announced that negotiations had failed at CP and union members were officially on legal strike across Canada.

This conservative government has a history of using back-to-work legislation to end railway strikes and other federal labour disputes, and this year's dispute proved to be no different.

However, 30 minutes before the back-to-work legislation was about to be tabled in Parliament, Minister of Labour Kellie Leitch announced that the government would withdraw the legislation because CP and the Teamsters had agreed to a mediation and arbitration process to address all of the outstanding issues, such as fatigue management, which had caused the strike.

In a press release, Teamsters Rail Conference President Doug Finnson explained that the union opted for mediation and arbitration to avoid a legislated process.

"Our preference is to negotiate these improvements through collective bargaining, and the worst thing that could happen is a legislated process. These issues are far too important to our members to have a legislated process decide the issue. Consequently the better option is to use a fair mediation and arbitration dispute resolution in front of an independent arbitrator, where we can demonstrate that our plan is a proven fatigue management system which is highly regarded for a long time and is far superior to what the employer seeks to obtain."

At another railway, negotiations continue between Unifor and Canadian National (CN) Rail. Unifor reports that negotiations with CN continue to be slow, with little progress. Unifor is the largest union at CN with more than 4,800 members. The union has yet to take a strike vote and no strike deadline has been set.

"The agreement that we reached at CP is the Unifor pattern that we intend to bargain at CN rail," said Unifor’s National Rail Director Brian Stevens.

Stevens told rabble.ca that both the union and the employer had agreed to reach a negotiated contract by the end of 2014 and to do so without involving or disturbing CN customers.

"We just keep running into stalls initiated by CN Rail," said Stevens, who explained that the union has reached a critical point in the bargaining process when they will begin to take strike votes.

Stevens also confirmed that the Teamsters and Unifor have been in "constant communication" while negotiating agreements at both CN and CP rail. 

Ella Bedard is rabble's labour intern. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People

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