Employees of the Canadian Pacific Railway have elected to go on strike. I have never been involved in a strike situation before, and wanted to share some of my thoughts and experiences.
Members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which includes engineers, conductors, yardmen, and rail traffic controllers, started a legal strike action as of midnight last night. We have been operating without a contract since January. The main issue is our pension. The company wants to put a cap on our pension. This means that our members who have been contributing with certain expectations upon retirement would see a significant reduction in their pension, 20-40% being the numbers I have heard. And because our contributions are so high, we have been ineligible to put money into other retirement programs.
I say this is the main issue, but the company won't even talk about the other issues until this is resolved.
Our members work long hours, are away from our homes and families for extended periods of time, and are often on call 24/7. Having a social life is extremely difficult to coordinate, and we are often denied our requests for time off. Our only alternative to getting a personal day off is to call in sick, and we don't have paid sick days, so if we don't show up for work, we don't get paid. We work weekends, nights, and holidays. We do all this because we know that at the end of our career, we and our families will be comfortably taken care of. And now they want to take that away.
Members of the union, company, and the Minister of Labour met this week, and came up with an agreement that commuter services in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal would continue to operate. This was not a position that the company originally had, although the union was willing. Freight service has been stopped nationwide.
And so I find myself in the unique position of both working and being on strike. I'm not a scab, because it was officially sanctioned by the union. But it does feel a little bit awkward.
Today, I woke up at 4:30am, got ready and reported for work at 5:45 for the morning commute. Finished my half shift at 9:30 and showed up to the picket line from 10:15 until 2 pm. Relaxed at a cafe for a short while before reporting for duty again at 4, finishing up at 9 and getting home a half hour later. And I will do the same thing again tomorrow and Friday.
Don't get me wrong, we are well paid for what we do and the hardships we, and our families, endure, but it is a trade off, our present lifestyle for future security. Other than a standard cost of living increase, money isn't even one of our concerns. Our pension, safety, and rest rules/fatigue are our main issues.
This strike won't last. Wheels are already being set in motion in the House of Commons to legislate us back to work. While I personally dislike the idea of striking, I support our decision, and dislike being denied our right to strike. The company has not been bargaining in good faith, and they have no reason to if they know we will be ordered back to work, no reason to negotiate a fair settlement when they can just delay until a government appointed arbitrator is assigned to come up with a binding deal.
Wow. I'm surprised I wrote so much. Thanks to anyone who read this, I think I mainly needed somewhere to let out my thoughts. I'll leave with a couple articles on the topic.