|CIRB rules UTU strike is legal - Feds consider back-to-work order
|The Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) rendered its decision regarding the legality of the current strike between UTU-Canada and CN, which began
when conductors and yard crews walked off the job at 00:01 on February 10, 2007. CN immediately applied to the CIRB to declare the strike was illegal on
account the UTU Canadian negotiating team did not have the mandate to call a strike because the International office did not endorse strike action in
keeping with the union’s constitution. The three-member board panel headed by CIRB vice-chair Julie Durette issued an oral ruling rejecting CN's
argument. The written reasons for the decision are to be released later.
Following the Board’s decision, the UTU announced that it removed from office four elected General Chairpersons whose role is to serve as UTU
bargaining committee members. In their place, the UTU Board of Directors assigned two of its Canadian Vice Presidents, John Armstrong and Robert
Sharpe, to now head the UTU negotiating team. A meeting has been scheduled today (February 20th) in Montreal with the VPs of the UTU and Company
negotiators with Federal Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn and the government’s chief labour negotiator, Elizabeth MacPherson, and where
negotiations will resume.
"Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Sharpe have stepped into the shoes of the removed general chairpersons," UTU International President Paul Thompson said. "They
are now in charge. I have spoken with them. They are following the UTU Constitution, and I fully support their actions, which include keeping pickets up at
CN facilities." The Canadian Vice Presidents are elected by Canadian delegates without involvement of U.S. delegates. Any tentative agreement with CN is
subject to ratification by the UTU Canadian membership.
The four Canadian General Chairpersons that were removed from office are accused by the UTU of engaging in unauthorized strike action in addition to
engaging in dual unionism by attempting to negotiate a merger with the Teamsters, which is in violation of the UTU Constitution. They were removed from
office and suspended from membership in the UTU effective February 19th by a vote of the UTU Board of Directors. They are General Chairpersons Rex
Beatty (GO-105), Bryan Boechler (GO-129), Raymond Lebel (GO-121) and Sylvia Leblanc (GO-759).
Also suspended were full-time Vice General Chairpersons Gary Anderson, Roland Hackl and James Robbins. The four General Committee offices were
secured by the UTU. Armstrong and Sharpe will now administer all business of the General Committees on behalf of the membership.
The General Committee Chairpersons may appeal the decision of the UTU Board of Directors to the UTU Executive Board. If the appeal is not successful,
elections for new General Committee officers will be conducted. During this time, Vice Presidents Armstrong and Sharpe will remain in control of the
affected General Committees.
Today (Feb.20), Federal Labour Minister Blackburn said in the House of Commons that he has prepared legislation to order the 2,800 striking UTU workers
back on the job, a move that would end the 10-day strike at CN, which has disrupted freight movement across Canada. It was not immediately clear when
the legislation would be introduced and a vote would be held.
Blackburn states he has told both parties (UTU and CN) that the current situation cannot continue amid complaints from the grain, chemical, automotive,
shipping industries and remote communities that depend on rail service. "I told them we don't have days before us, we have hours — they have hours,"
Federal back-to-work legislation has been enacted 31 times since 1950, including six times in the rail industry, most recently in 1995. Whether such a law
would pass in the current minority Parliament is unclear.
The NDP flatly opposes such a bill, while the Bloc Québécois wouldn't declare whether it would support back-to-work legislation. Liberal labour critic Mario
Silva said it was premature to determine if his party would endorse a back-to-work bill.
Blackburn, who on yesterday (Feb.19) said he has been "preoccupied" by the strike's impact, said MPs must set aside politics and act in the best interest of
Yesterday (Feb.19), CAW National President Buzz Hargrove issued a statement stating the CAW continues their support of striking UTU workers, and called
upon all CAW Local Presidents, staff and membership to give their full support during this time of need by UTU-Canada members.
CAW Council 4000 with files from the UTU
Related: CAW continues their support of the striking UTU across Canada