Canadian Pacific rail workers fight over safety and ‘human schedules’

By Félix Vincent Ardea
April 4, 2022

MONTREAL — A major cross-country lockout and strike battle broke out March 20 involving 3,000 Canadian Pacific Railway engineers, conductors and yard workers, members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference union. Two days later the parties agreed to submit their contract to binding arbitration. The workers are fighting over wages, benefits, pensions and safe “human” work schedules.

Canadian Pacific is the second-largest railroad in Canada, next to Canadian National. With a market capitalization of $74.34 billion, it moves grain; fertilizer and potash; lumber; oil, coal, ethanol and other energy-producing resources; cars and other products, key parts of the Canadian capitalist rulers’ economy.

The workers are determined to make overdue gains on pensions and work schedules. The union is asking that the cap on workers’ pensions be raised by 5%, still less than what has been stolen from retired workers by rising prices since the last cap increase 10 years ago. And for the same pension plan for recent hires as for union members hired before 2013. These issues were behind the workers’ 96.7% vote to strike.

In their unceasing drive to boost profits for CP shareholders, the bosses have turned their backs on the question of worker fatigue. What’s at issue is no less than the safety of workers and all those who live by Canadian Pacific tracks.

Now the company wants to force workers to take their federally mandated rest period at outside terminals, rather than their home terminal. This would significantly increase layover times away from home, disrupting ever further their already precarious family life and wreaking havoc with the proper rest necessary to work safely.

Shifts supposedly last for eight hours, but workers can be forced to do overtime up to 10 hours, even if they put in a notice that they need to get rest. “The company is trying to squeeze every bit of work out of us,” locomotive engineer Sylvain Archambault told the Militant on the picket line March 20 at the CP intermodal yard in Lachine near Montreal.

“You could easily finish work before 10 hours, but then they tell you, ‘You have half an hour left, you can manage to do a bit more.’ The union puts in grievances, but the company just throws them away,” he said. “Overtime is dangerous. It’s accumulated fatigue and you don’t even notice it.”

Some 45 bosses’ associations across Canada, who saw potential disruption to shipping and profits, called for the federal government in Ottawa to “do what is best for Canada’s economy” and bar any strike action.

They also invoked Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a reason for Ottawa to crush the strike. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a top supplier of grains, has put pressure on Canada’s grain growers to pick up some of the slack and help avoid a global food crisis,” the National Post wrote March 17.

CP bosses also tried to whip up farmers to oppose any rail workers’ strike. They ran into resistance. “People do have the right to strike and the right of workers to stand up for a better living wage,” barley farmer Rauri Qually from Dacotah, Manitoba, told CBC News March 21. “And I support that.”

Help get out the truth about what CP rail workers face. Solidarity messages can be sent to Teamster Canada Rail Conference, 130 Albert St., Suite 1510, Ottawa, ON K1P 5G4. Phone (613) 235-1828.

Félix Vincent Ardea is a rail worker on the Canadian National in Quebec and a member of the Teamsters.