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Judy Haiven: CN strikers should not be legislated back to work

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KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – 3,200 CN workers are on strike across Canada, and there will be no back to work legislation by the Trudeau government until December 5 when Parliament is recalled and the government tries to break the strike. 

That’s a lot of time for the union Teamsters Canada Rail Conference to take advantage and educate the public about why the Teamster conductors and yard workers are on strike.

This is the first rail strike in 12 years. Teamster picketers were quick to tell me they receive no strike pay – one worker with more than 30 years on the job says he never got strike pay –even in the old days. Then why, I ask, do you pay dues to the union, if you get no help when you are on strike? There was no immediate answer to that, except perhaps members’ loyalty.   

On a side note, In 2007 workers voted to switch to the Teamsters after their former union, the United Transportation Union (UTU), refused to endorse the Canadians’ strike in February 2007. The US-based UTU not only did not support the CN workers’ strike, but also fired four senior Canadian UTU officials for “engaging in an unauthorized strike” and for trying to affiliate to the Teamsters (also a US-based union).  

Passenger trains, and VIA Rail are not affected by the strike, but freight is. The people on strike here are mainly conductors who do paperwork and other jobs aboard trains, often on the Halifax-Moncton route.  They also build trains and shunt the cars back and forth.  

Though CN management has offered binding arbitration to try to resolve the strike, CN insists on offering a lifetime limit on prescription drugs.  As one striker said, “A family might get $60,000 as a lifetime limit for drugs, but what if a child is sick or someone has diabetes? We’re young people with families and the money could run out.”  

Another striker agreed, “ The company is sending out propaganda to our members – basically settle or else.  Basically management wants things to stay the same.” 

Health and safety is also a major issue, as conductors are entitled to only 10 hours off between shifts.  As one picketer put it, “I got off at noon from my night shift and then had to come in to work midnight to 8 in the morning.  There is lack of rest between shifts.” 

The Trudeau government is making sounds about legislating the CN workers back to work. Back in the day, under the former Harper government, federal Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn claimed the economy was suffering widespread damage as a result of the February 2007 strike.  

Today we are hearing propane fuel is running out, and that workers in Dartmouth’s Autoport could be laid off if the strike continues. 

However, today’s brand-new minority Liberal government may face some serious opposition to ordering workers back to work. 

Let’s hope the Bloc, the NDP and the Greens stand against legislating to end the strike.  What good is the right to strike and to bargain collectively if, by the stroke of a pen, those rights can be taken away? 

Just to show the travails your intrepid reporter goes to to bring you the story of the CN strike,  as a bus user I had to walk through shrubs and bushes for 20 minutes from the bus stop just to get to the picket line– which speaks volumes about the car culture of Halifax.  There are no sidewalks, no paths, and no buses near Africville Road where the picketers stood.

When I arrived, one picketer asked me if I knew my hand was bleeding badly.

Going thru the thorny bushes  reminded me of this verse from the song the Battle of New Orleans:  … they ran through the briers and they ran through the brambles, And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go. They ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’em.”

Judy Haiven is on the steering committee of Equity Watch, an organization that fights discrimination, bullying and racism in the workplace.  Contact her at equitywatchns@gmail.com

See also: CN workers on strike for more safety and better working conditions

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