A labour dispute between Canadian Pacific Rail and its running trades employees’ union Teamsters Canada over the cancellation of local agreements has been settled in favour of the union.
On Friday, March 22, the Canada Industrial Relations Board filed a cease and desist order against CP Rail with the federal court of Canada, ordering the company to reinstate local agreements.
Running trades employees include locomotive engineers, conductors, trainmen and yardmen.
After CP Rail gave notice that it would be cancelling local agreements for these employees in all of its service areas last September, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference filed initial charges with the Canada Industrial Relations Board in October.
The board held a hearing in Ottawa in October and on December 19 the board found that CP Rail had violated the Canada Labour Code in cancelling the local agreements and directed CP Rail to reinstate the local agreements.
However, according to a statement by Teamsters, CP Rail continued to issue notice about the cancellation of agreements. On January 23 this year, Teamsters asked the Canada Industrial Relations Board to file its December order with the federal court so that if CPR did not reinstate the local agreements, the order could be enforced.
At a hearing in Ottawa on March 18, CP Rail told the board that cancellation of local rules was necessary so the company could implement standardized calling rules in their place. The company argued that the net result of its action would be to modify rather than cancel the existing calling rules.
However, on Friday, March 22, the board came back with the decision that it would file the cease and desist order against CP Rail cancelling local agreements with the federal court. That was done the same day.
In Friday’s decision, the board stated:
“The employer simply adopted an interpretation of the order that suited its own purposes, and issued new notices of cancellation affecting virtually every local rule in every terminal in the CP Rail system.
“The Board was very deliberate in its drafting of (the order), and it did intend the order to indefinitely prohibit the employer from unilaterally cancelling and replacing the local rules on a system-wide basis.
“Accordingly, the board has no difficulty in finding that the employer has failed to comply with (the order), and that given the employer’s past conduct, there is every likelihood that it will continue to fail to comply with the order in the future,” reads the board’s reasons for the decision.
“CP Rail’s wholesale cancellation of local rules … for the purpose of replacing them with managerial directives, is clearly not conducive to constructive labour relations. By its actions, the employer has made it virtually impossible for the labour-relations system to work as it should.”
The Teamsters union is pleased that the board supported its stance, said Dave Able, General Chairman, LE West.
“The board ruled in our favour — rightfully so, as far as we’re concerned — that the company had no right to do what they did on such a wholesale change. It’s undermining our representation of our members. It’s hurting our membership in their way of life. It’s hurting our members’ working conditions,” said Able.
“We felt we had a strong case. We feel the company is being arbitary and not negotiating with us about this and that really should have been done. We probably could have avoided a lot of the conflict if the company would have sat down and talked to us.”
Now that the cease and desist order has been filed with the federal court, the decision is enforceable, Able said.
“It’s filed with the courts because the company has ignored what the CIRB ordered them to do back in December,” he said. “They could be liable for contempt of court now if they continue to ignore it.”
The Cranbrook/Fort Steele division of CP Rail has been greatly affected by the cancellation of local rules, Able went on.
“As a result of the company’s decision, a large number of our members have arbitarily had their earnings potential reduced, in some cases by a third or more. The majority are spending at least twice as long away from home to earn less money,” he said.
The cancellation will also affect service to the coal mines, Able explained.
“It is important to understand that in addition to the loss to our members, the agreements that have been signed were negotiated to ensure we could provide additional service to the mines. The union came to these agreements some 13 years ago after years of negotiaton, primarily at the urging of the company.
“It is certainly a mystery to us why, under new management, the focus has shifted from serving one of our largest customers to picking a fight with employees. We certainly hope the mines understand that any loss of service is absolutely beyond our control.”
The labour dispute between CP Rail and Teamsters comes on the back of a spate of layoffs in the Cranbrook/Fort Steele division earlier this year.
In the first quarter of 2013, 46 running trade employees lost their jobs, representing 22 per cent of those employees in the area. Earlier this month, CP Rail explained that the layoffs were due to seasonal work ebbs and flows.
CP Rail declined to comment on the Canada Industrial Relations Board decision, stating that it is an internal matter.