|TCRC strike hits VIA Rail
|After talks went off the rails between locomotive engineers and yardmasters and VIA Rail last night, most passenger rail service
across Canada has been shut down at the height of tourism season.
The union representing 350 engineers officially went on strike Friday at noon EDT.
At issue for the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference union (TCRC), which represents the engineers, is the organization of time off for
its workers and training and certification, among other disputes, said union president Dan Shewchuk. The union has been without a
collective agreement since December 31, 2006.
“The process today is our crews are called at 10 p.m. and told, ‘You have a day off tomorrow,'” Mr. Shewchuk said, adding that two
days' consecutive time off and fair notice of duty schedules is a requirement for most workers. “Our issues are not huge.”
Mr. Shewchuk also said the training required for engineers to renew their qualification cards every three years was shortened too
much. Workers undergo one day of training per year for that certification, he said.
VIA Rail: Read the company's statement
A spokesperson for VIA said that although the old structure of one-week training every three years had been changed, the training
itself had not been reduced.
“Now, its days of training, ongoing, at several times a year,” said Claude Arsenault of VIA. “And mentoring is allowed and
encouraged. The process is different.”
Ms. Arsenault said the company was disappointed about the strike.
“Both parties have exchanged offers. We started with a fair one,” she said.
Talks broke down at 1 a.m. EDT on Friday after four days of intense negotiations, according to the company.
On Friday morning, a federally-appointed mediator was asked to meet with the union and the company. That meeting began late
Friday morning, and at last reports, the two sides were still meeting.
The strike comes amid a difficult time for VIA's business. In the Crown Corporation's 2008 Annual Report, president and CEO Paul
Côté wrote that growth was expected to slow in 2009 compared to the previous year.
VIA runs 503 trains every week along 12,500 kilometres of track, with the vast majority of its passenger service occurring in the
Windsor-Quebec City corridor. More than four-million passengers ride the rails in Canada every year.
The possibility of a strike was already looming this week, as VIA cancelled some departures in preparation for the walkout, which
was made more likely by a 92 per cent strike vote by union members.
Without engineers to help the trains run, the company had said it would not be able to operate most of its routes across the
country. The Sudbury-White River and Victoria-Courtenay routes are an exception, since they are managed by a third party for VIA
Rail. The company has promised to refund tickets to stranded passengers.
Before the walkout at noon, VIA had been supplying buses for passengers on the lines they cancelled in preparation for the strike,
but said they would no longer be offering alternatives to their rail service.
Competitors in the travel industry immediately leapt on the opportunity presented by the service interruption. Just after workers
walked off the job, Porter Airlines announced it would offer a 25 per cent discount on its fares for travel before the end of summer.
The company's announcement stressed how convenient its downtown Toronto airport would be for travellers who were otherwise
planning on train travel through Union Station.
Ms. Arsenault stressed that VIA is still competitive against airline options.
“Canadians more and more seem to be turning to VIA, which is an environmentally friendly way to travel,” she said. “I hardly think
planes could hold on to that standing.”
However, Ms. Arsenault said the negative impact on business is a concern for VIA.
“If planes and buses continue to take our place in this strike we're obviously concerned that it could affect our business, especially
during the economic downturn,” she said. VIA’s most active service is fuelled by loyalty from business travellers in the Windsor-
Quebec corridor, she said.
The union is settling in for the possibility of a long strike, Mr. Shewchuk said.
“Speculation would be, it could probably be a long one,” he said. “I don't think we've been unreasonable in any of our requests.
They had an opportunity to make this work, and they still do have an opportunity.”
Source: Susan Krashinsky - Globe and Mail Update
CAW National Council 4000 represents the vast majority of employees at VIA Rail across Canada, those who work on-board
services as Service Managers and Chefs, and off-board services such as Customer Service Representatives, Station Attendants,
Baggage Handlers and various administrative positions. CAW Local 100 represents the corporations Carmen and Machinists.
The CAW National Office issued the following Railfax to it’s VIA Rail membership.