It’s a Tough Job

 

  from CP Magazine Volume 10, 2015

Labour relations and collective agreements can be steeped in tradition, but year after year of doing the same thing, we get to a point where we have to ask ourselves, “is there a better way?”

cp-mag-11Does it always have to be a lengthy fight? A two or three-year deal? A bare minimum ratification?

With the right people and open minds, more can be done. With strong leadership, foresight and a willingness to challenge the status quo, collective agreements can change for the better.

In Canada and the U.S., positive changes are happening on the labour relations front. In the U.S., the whole system of work and hours for running trades has changed for the better. With forward-looking union leaders and a focus on employee health and safety, the future looks bright.

However, the changes didn’t occur without some initial caution on the part of unionized employees, says Rob Schulze, a locomotive engineer based in Harvey, N.D.

“I worked under the old contract work rules for over 20 years, and knew the system well,” says Schulze. “Leaving my comfort zone was a difficult decision.”

Now, Schulze embraces the new deal and his new-found ability to actually plan ahead with family and friends.

“Throughout my career, one of the biggest problems I’ve had is getting time off from work. Family and friends had to plan events not knowing if I’d be there with them. Most of the time, I wasn’t. With our new agreement, I can flip the calendar months in advance and say with certainty: ‘I’m off that day; you can count on me being there.

“It’s a real credit to the BLET and CP negotiating teams.”

Long-term vision

There are now seven labour agreements between CP and its Canadian unions, six of which are record length (as long as six years), receiving ratification levels as high as 97.5 percent. CP’s Rail Traffic Controllers (TCRC-RTC), Unifor mechanical employees, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Teamsters Maintenance of Way employees (TCRC-MWED), Police (CPPA) and United Steel Workers (USW) have all ratified long-term deals.

On the U.S. side, CP and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) on the Soo Line and the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad (two wholly-owned CP subsidiaries), recently ratified three-year agreements, with an option to extend by two years. These long-term agreements will improve the quality of life for some 700 engineers, conductors, and trainmen while giving them more money to take home at the end of the day.

Wages on the rise

The new hourly-rate agreement with the BLET brings an end to a mileage-based wage system from the steam engine era and provides CP with increased flexibility and transparency, the employee with two consecutive days off, and significantly increased wages. Ultimately, the ratified agreements with the BLET will improve network efficiency by providing more clarity around working hours and scheduled time off.

While negotiations were sometimes slow and arduous, BLET General Chairman Peter Semenek believes it was well worth the time and effort.

“These agreements could actually produce a ‘win-win’ outcome for the parties,” Semenek says. “Our BLET engineers and trainmen gained significant wage increases that should put them at or near the top of the earnings scale of contract railroad employees throughout the United States. But most importantly, the carrier and our organization were finally able to address quality of life issues that have been ignored for far too long. Our engineers and trainmen should have a clearer picture of when they will be going to work and when they will have time off for rest, and to spend with their families.”

In July 2015, CP also came to a six-year agreement with the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC), a division of the Transportation and Communications Union/International Association of Machinists. The BRC represents employees on the Soo Line Railroad.

Win-win agreements

With these contracts in place, CP is in a strong position to continue delivering on its promise of delivering the best service at the lowest cost. It’s a position that Nicole Methvan, Director of Sales, Auto and Transload, likes to work from.

“Automotive customers place value on timely, consistent, safe, and reliable service. Labour stability provides our customers with the confidence that we can meet these requirements,” says Methvan. “The fact that CP has negotiated long-term agreements with many of its unions going forward to 2018, and as a result will avoid the potential for major supply-chain disruption, is a selling feature we leverage daily.”

Semenek agrees that a strong collective agreement gives the company a solid foundation to work from.

“For the carrier’s part, they gained considerable flexibility to schedule and handle the crews as needed,” says Semenek. “This should give them essential tools to improve efficiency. The agreement also looks to the future as it gives direction for future wage negotiations.”

Negotiations with the TCRC

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference-Running Trades (TCRC) represents CP’s approximately 3,000 active locomotive engineers and conductors.

In December 2015, CP and the TCRC reached an arbitrated agreement. CP and the TCRC went into government-mandated arbitration on May 15, 2015, and had been working diligently to come to a mutually beneficial agreement ever since. The arbitrated agreement will expire Dec. 31, 2017. CP and the TCRC had previously agreed on wages, term, and benefits. The government-appointed arbitrator, Honourable George W. Adams, made several important rulings, including allowing for, under certain provisions, locomotive video and voice recording.

CP’s vice-president of human resources and labour relations, Peter Edwards was impressed with the work done by Mr. Adams.

“He took in volumes of information from both sides and processed it with ease,” Edwards says. “His ability to understand the issues at hand and the complexities associated with railroading was hugely impressive.”

While CP will continue to push TCRC leadership on a model that enables it to properly schedule crews, provides mandatory rest options, and maintains the highest standards of safe railroading, the Adams award is good news for employees, customers, and shareholders. It’s also a step in the right direction for all stakeholders.

Focus on the future

The future, thanks to the hard work by many of the union leaders and CP’s labour relations team, can be summed up with one word: certainty.

“In the simplest terms, this contract pays me for my time spent at work and provides me time off with my family and friends,” adds Schulze. “Time spent at, and away from, work must balance each other equally in order to have a successful career and personal life. My time spent at work may be measured in dollars, but my time spent with family and friends is priceless.”

From CP’s perspective the certainty brings with it many advantages too.

“With more and more of these progressive, forward-looking agreements, we are moving into an age where we can better schedule our service and deliver better results across the network,” Edwards says. “But more importantly, employees can easily schedule their own lives, balancing their work with the need for quality rest and quality time with family and friends.”

Yes, there is a better way and with continued hard work, leadership and vision, collective agreements rooted in tradition can continue to change for the better.

It’s a Tough Job |   CP Magazine Volume 10