A strike by about 3,200 train conductors and railway co-ordinators in Canada could affect the shipment of freight to Churchill along the Hudson Bay Railway (HBR), its owners say.
The unionized employees, who are members of the Teamsters Canadian Rail Conference - Conductors, Trainspersons and Yardpersons (TCRC-CTY), went on strike at one minute after midnight Nov. 19.
“A strike on CN lines will restrict and/or stop the supply of cars delivered to HBR as well as restricting and/or stopping cars delivered to CN from HBR from proceeding on CN lines during a strike,” said the Arctic Gateway group, which owns the HBR between The Pas and Churchill as well as the Port of Churchill, in a Nov. 19 Facebook post. ”It is the understanding of Arctic Gateway that this strike will only affect freight services and not passenger services.”
The TCRC-CTY says CN currently requires its members to operate trains alone from the outside of locomotives, hanging on to moving trains with one hand while operating a remotely controlled locomotive with the other and that their demand to stop this practice has not been met.
“Fatigue has been recognized by the Transportation Safety Board as a major safety problem in this industry,” said TCRC president Lyndon Isaak. “Too many railroaders are operating trains when they should be resting. 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 also says their employer is trying to impose a lifetime cap on prescription drug coverage but wages are not a major sticking point in the negotiations. TCRC-CTY says the company is trying to force them into binding arbitration to achieve gains they otherwise couldn’t.
“CN is telling our members that they are facing tough times, but the reality is that they made over $3.8 billion in the third quarter of 2019,” said Isaak. “They should be ashamed to be pleading poverty. This obsession with profits and shareholder return, at the expense of just about everything else, is exactly what is wrong with our economy.”
Contract negotiations have been going on for seven months, with the assistance of federal mediators for the past five.
“In the spirit of protecting the Canadian economy, we have offered the union binding arbitration and they have declined,” said CN executive vice-president and chief operating officer Rob Reilly prior to the strike deadline. “If a settlement cannot be reached this weekend, we will once again encourage the union leadership to accept binding arbitration as an alternative to disrupting the Canadian economy.”