Tentative deal pulls CN workers off the picket line

Aaron Kidd (left), Mathew Moore (middle), and Alvin Lim (right) stood on the picket line during Day 3 of the CN strike in Hinton on Nov. 21.
Masha Scheele Photo

Masha Scheele

Teamsters and Canadian National (CN) reached a tentative agreement to renew the collective agreement for more than 3,000 conductors, train persons and yard workers on Nov. 26 after a weeklong strike.

Details of the tentative agreement will not be released until the members have had a chance to review the document first, stated a release by Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), the union representing the strikers.

The picket line was moved to Hinton on Day 3 of the strike after spending the first few days in Jasper.

Pointing at a table filled with donated coffee and food on Nov. 21, CN conductor Travis Saunter said, “The community supports us, this is all from people stopping by. They bring us coffee and pizza. The honks are awesome, and people bringing by coffee, it’s nice to see the support that way.”

Strikers weren’t concerned about pay rates, but pegged safety and quality of life at the top of  demands.

“Bottom line on this strike is that it’s actually not financially driven, they actually offered a pay raise above inflation and the union declined it. The pay raise isn’t what we’re after, we want a better quality of life. Travis and I are visitors in our own home,” stated Evan Mcwhinnie, a locomotive engineer based out of Jasper who stood on the picket line in support of the conductors.

He added that they spend more of their time on trains in Edson, Edmonton, Blue River, and McBride BC, than in their own homes.

Within two hours of a call, they have to be on the train where they’ll spend the following 12 hours en route to a location. Once there they often have to wait for another 14 hours before turning back for another 12 hours. Mcwhinnie added that sometimes they only get 10 hours in between shifts to spend time at home with their families.

“We want better rest for the guys that are on the rails and running the trains, so we can have a better quality of life and be at home,” he said.

On Nov. 25, TCRC released a recording of a CN supervisor ordering a fatigued conductor to continue working for several hours.

The conductor did not move the train and was suspended for 14 days without pay as a result of the incident on Oct. 19, 2018 in Ontario. 

Saunter added that the strike helped put pressure on the situation as Quebec was slowly running out of propane reserves.

TCRC reported that the propane shortage in Ontario and Québec appeared to be largely manufactured by CN as more than 1,800 locomotive engineers and over 600 supervisors could continue to operate freight trains every day. 

Some of the issues TCRC bargained for included safety, time off provisions and lifetime caps on benefits.