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CPR strikers committed to cause; asking Wilks for supportPosted: May 28, 2012

As the Canadian federal government finalizes legislation to force the roughly 4,800 striking Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. (CPR) Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) employees back to work, regional strikers on the picket line at Cranbrook remain committed to their cause.

The striking workers (rolling stock crews, dispatchers etc.), out since May 23 after talks over pension issues broke down, are resigned to the likely fate of back-to-work legislation. However, that didn’t stop them from reaching out to Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks to support them.
Talks between CPR and TCRC representatives broke down yesterday (May 27), paving the way for the Harper government to force them back to work.

This action is being taken to protect the economy, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt stated today (May 28).

“If this strike were to continue long term, it could cost the Canadian economy over half a billion dollars each week and put the jobs of thousands of Canadians at risk. There is a point in time when a person’s right to strike is measured and balanced against the national economy and the best interests of the Canadian public.”
A prolonged strike would cost Canadians $540 million a week, she added.

East Kootenay News Online Weekly (e-KNOW) received a media release from the President of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Division 563 in Cranbrook this afternoon, acknowledging Wilks’ position on Bill C38, the omnibus budget bill, “and the courage he showed to put the interests of his constituents ahead of blind party loyalty” and noted they hope he takes the same approach to this labour issue.

“Last week the Union led a march to David Wilks office and hand delivered a letter encouraging him to continue to take up the cause of the folks back home something every Canadian expects of their MP but something very few MPs, particularly government MPs deliver on,” the release outlines.
After the march Division 563 President Dean Majkowski stated, “The majority of the people in our delegation today are striking CP Rail employees and we are hoping our MP will bring to his government the need for balance in any back to work legislation the government might be considering.”
Noting there are upwards of a thousand railway employees in Wilks’ constituency and every one of them has concerns about how government involvement in the dispute will affect them and their families, Majkowski said, “Many of these folks supported Mr. Wilks in the last election. Now they are asking for his support to ensure that government does not weigh the scales in favour of the railway if or when they become involved in our strike.
“Our members did not want a strike as a means of resolving the contract dispute with our employer but when you are confronted with demands calling for a reduction in your pension of up to 40% you are not really left with a lot of options,” he explained.

The union pointed out that former CPR CEO Fred Green, who was recently forced out by the shareholders and who presided over the current demands to dismantle their pensions, is leaving with a $18 million severance package.
“CP Rail management claims that it must have pension parity with the Pension Benefits provided to running trades employees at Canadian National Railway. However, this demand ignores that the pension benefits provided CN employees have evolved through very separate and distinct bargaining environments. For example, while employees at CP have opted to forego percentage wage increases to achieve improvements in pension benefits, employees at CN have not taken similar actions to improve their pensions. This difference has provided CN employees the ability to direct a greater portion of their
annual income toward personal retirement savings. To discriminate against CP employees on the basis that they opted to direct a greater portion of their wages toward their company pension plan rather than personal income is not justified. Nor does the so-called parity argument take into account specific
pension and work condition concessions made by CP employees during previous rounds of bargaining in order to maintain the monetary value of their pensions, the union release stated.
The Union pointed out that CP Rail is not a company “in jeopardy as a result of its pension funding obligations, in fact CP is a profitable company due in no small part to the contribution of its’ employees. During the past 10 years employees have agreed to extended runs, they have improved work attendance in excess of 80%, agreed to reduced arbitrary payments and have assumed payment of a portion of their benefit package. These concessions were agreed without interference from the government,” the release explained.
“We have seen in other disputes since Mr. Harper achieved a majority government where back to work legislation has guaranteed that the employers’ position wins the day. Specifically, the legislation we have seen from the government mandates that each party submit a final offer to the government
and the government chooses one,” Majkowski said.

“That approach in and of itself would not be so bad except that this legislation has included a guideline that the employer’s position takes precedent over that of the employees. In fact, all the back to work bills this government has introduced have mandated the employers’ position on pensions be addressed relying on a guideline that places the employers’ interest ahead of employees.
“We are asking that the government not impose back to work legislation that effectively rewards CEOs and companies who profit at the expense of workers and their families. We are hoping that Mr. Wilks and other Conservative MPs will do the right thing and challenge any back to work legislation that
unfairly takes sides in this contract dispute. ”
Earlier today the Union’s Bargaining Committee issued a statement advising members of the status of contract talks with the railway: “At 1400 E.S.T, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services (FMCS) withdrew their involvement. This new development means any further negotiations will take place without their assistance. The union remains available and ready to bargain. However, at this point, no further meetings are scheduled.”
“Everyone, including the Labour Minister, understands it was the company that filed the Notice of Dispute initiating the conciliation process and subsequent deadlines. This notice effectively determined when a work stoppage would occur. It has been apparent, throughout bargaining, the employer wants the government to intervene and advance their agenda. If the government initiates legislation we will continue to pursue all avenues at our disposal,” the union release concluded.

Ian Cobb/e-KNOW

Picketers at CPR Cranbrook this afternoon (May 28) were awaiting word on back-to-work legislation. Meanwhile, the strikers were hearing more car horn beeps of support than shouts of opposition as the strike pushed through day six.. Some picketers found unique ways to pass the time, including picking at a guitar.



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