Picket lines key to CP Rail strike's damage
The Montreal Gazette: May 17, 2007
Union urges truckers not to cross 3,200 maintenance workers walk off job.
Teamsters Canada is urging its unionized truck drivers to avoid crossing picket lines set up by striking CP Rail maintenance workers, president Robert Bouvier said.
"As much as we can we're telling them not to cross picket lines," Bouvier said in an intervew from his Laval office. "We are doing everything we can to support our brothers and sisters and help them win this strike."
The 3,200 members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference set up picket lines yesterday morning, after negotiations broke off with Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. About 2,000 of the 3,200 members work on capital projects, which have been put on hold during the strike.
Besides maintaining current working conditions, the union wants a 13-per-cent raise over three years, compared with CP's offer of 10 per cent. The average maintenance worker earns $42,000 a year, the union says.
Although CP spokesperson Mark Seland said rail service hasn't suffered - managers filled in for the 1,200 workers responsible for daily maintenance - he acknowledged that the picketing has delayed trucks at some terminals.
The strike has made no impact at the Port of Montreal, spokesperson France Poulin said.
In the short term, the striking workers, who maintain CP's tracks and bridges, aren't expected to have a significant impact on rail operations.
But if strikers stay out for more than a week and get support from other workers - the Teamsters also represents CP's locomotive engineers and rail traffic controllers, as well as truckers - service could deteriorate, some observers say.
Unlike Teamsters members who work on board trains, unionized truckers can refuse to cross picket lines, Bouvier said.
Bouvier said the union hadn't given any work-to-rule directives to its locomotive engineers, but urged members to be extra vigilant at work during the strike.
"There have been many derailments; our personnel has to be very careful," he said.
Yesterday at the Port of Vancouver's Pacific Coast terminal, about 27 dock workers refused to cross the strikers' picket lines.
Like the truckers, individual workers have that right in their collective agreement, said Tom Dufresne, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Canada.
At one point, police were called in to stop pickets from disrupting operations at Pacific Coast, the world's largest export sulphur and bulk liquids marine terminal, said Peter Xotta, director of business development for the Vancouver Port Authority.
"It (the picketing) is disrupting access to the terminal, Xotta said.
The free flow of goods at the Port of Vancouver is essential to economic sectors like chemical production, which already suffered during a winter strike at Canadian National Railway Co.
That strike ended with back-to-work legislation being passed, a move that Jean-Pierre Blackburn, the federal labour minister, said he would enact in the CP strike if it posed a significant economic threat.
"If this drags on, we could definitely have problems," said Michael Bourque, a spokesperson for the Canadian Chemical Producers' Association.
CP stock rose $1.90 yesterday to close at $75.82 in Toronto .