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Article from Friday's Globe and Mail

SUSAN KRASHINSKY

Globe and Mail Update Last updated on Friday, Jul. 24, 2009 06:32PM EDT

After talks went off the rails between locomotive engineers and yardmasters and Via Rail last night, most passenger rail service across Canada has been shut down at the height of tourism season.

The union representing 350 engineers officially went on strike Friday at noon (ET).

At issue for the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference union, which represents the engineers, is the organization of time off for its workers and training and certification, among other disputes, said union president Dan Shewchuk. The union has been without a collective agreement since Dec. 31, 2006.

“The process today is our crews are called at 10 p.m. and told, ‘You have a day off tomorrow,'” Mr. Shewchuk said, adding that two days' consecutive time off and fair notice of duty schedules is a requirement for most workers. “Our issues are not huge.”

Mr. Shewchuk also said the training required for engineers to renew their qualification cards every three years was shortened too much. Workers undergo one day of training per year for that certification, he said.

A spokesperson for Via said that although the old structure of one-week training every three years had been changed, the training itself had not been reduced.

“Now, it's days of training, ongoing, at several times a year,” said Claude Arsenault of Via. “And mentoring is allowed and encouraged. The process is different.”

Ms. Arsenault said the company was disappointed about the strike.

“Both parties have exchanged offers. We started with a fair one,” she said.

Talks broke down at 1 a.m. (ET) on Friday after four days of intense negotiations, according to the company.

On Friday morning, a federally-appointed mediator was asked to meet with the union and the company. That meeting began late Friday morning, and ended mid-afternoon. No date has been set for the two sides to meet again at the bargaining table.

The strike comes amid a difficult time for Via's business. In the Crown corporation's 2008 Annual Report, president and CEO Paul Côté wrote that growth was expected to slow in 2009 compared to the previous year.

Via runs 503 trains every week along 12,500 kilometres of track, with the vast majority of its passenger service occurring in the Windsor-Quebec City corridor. More than 4-million passengers ride the rails in Canada every year.

The possibility of a strike was already looming this week, as Via cancelled some departures in preparation for the walkout, which was made more likely by a 92 per cent strike vote by union members.

Without engineers to help the trains run, the company had said it would not be able to operate most of its routes across the country. The Sudbury-White River and Victoria-Courtenay routes are an exception, since they are managed by a third party for Via rail. The company has promised to refund tickets to stranded passengers.

Before the walkout at noon, Via had been supplying buses for passengers on the lines they cancelled in preparation for the strike, but said they would no longer be offering alternatives to their rail service.

Competitors in the travel industry immediately leapt on the opportunity presented by the service interruption. Just after workers walked off the job, Porter Airlines announced it would offer a 25 per cent discount on its fares for travel before the end of summer. The company's announcement stressed how convenient its downtown Toronto airport would be for travellers who were otherwise planning on train travel through Union Station.

Ms. Arsenault stressed that Via is still competitive against airline options.

“Canadians more and more seem to be turning to Via, which is an environmentally friendly way to travel,” she said. “I hardly think planes could hold on to that standing.”

However, Ms. Arsenault said the negative impact on business is a concern for Via.

“If planes and buses continue to take our place in this strike we're obviously concerned that it could affect our business, especially during the economic downturn,” she said. Via's most active service is fuelled by loyalty from business travellers in the Windsor-Quebec corridor, she said.

The union is settling in for the possibility of a long strike, Mr. Shewchuk said.

“Speculation would be, it could probably be a long one,” he said. “I don't think we've been unreasonable in any of our requests. They had an opportunity to make this work, and they still do have an opportunity.”
Strike stalls rail travel

Friday, Jul. 24, 2009 01:22PM EDT

Via passengers fear having to scramble in wake of disruption
Join the Discussion:


C Johnson

7/24/2009 7:12:47 PM
All I can say is that in the passenger transportation industry there should be a minimum notice period (say 2 weeks) before a strike can happen. Requirements for a full refund on any ticket from the time strike notice in given until the time a contract is signed. And some kind of regulations to help prevent airlines, bus compianies etc. frome hiking their rates to take advantage of stranded travelers.

CourtGQuinn​

7/24/2009 7:11:33 PM
One more quick point before i call it a day...$4 million to hire an amount of engineers greter then 10% of the current total. Again, just the amount saved on fuel should be efficient to cover that...but how about this...why doesn't Via ask ticket holders what they think about a $1 per passenger fare increase to raise the money to hire 40 engineers. As mentioned in previous post...they can not only relieve/lessen demand from current batch of engineers...but the new trains drivers could scout future rail paths for future development. Heck, 1% of the capital outlays the feds are paying for capital upgrades for Via could hire 40 engineers. But it's about time Via employees and railway users alike throughout Canada/America decide what kind of service is possible with current infrastucture for an affordable outlay. There's much to be improved upon with proven technologies and scalable results...

Harold from Windsor

7/24/2009 7:09:22 PM
CourtGQuinn​ @ 7/24/2009 6:55:28 PM
- an interesting post. Rail could be SO much better in this country and contribute to increased efficiencies, decrease GHG, etc.; it is sad.

We cannot be Europe, but sure we CAN be much much better; start with high speed trains in the Windsor-Quebec City corridor...


Harold from Windsor

7/24/2009 7:03:58 PM
pps. and I used to be a BIG union supporter -- I suppose I just matured...


Harold from Windsor

7/24/2009 7:02:21 PM
ps. I know that the 15% of the residents of Windsor, Ont. who are currently unemployed (about 30,000) would LOVE to replace these "engineers".

 

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Oh no! Business travel in Canada will grind to a halt! People will be forced into airports... just imagine!

I have to say that a Greyhound strike would have more far reaching affects than a VIA rail strike... a sad statement. That's my 2 cents.
 

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I'd be totally pssed at a Coach Canada strike!

I saw some very sad faces today when people found out their dream of a cross Canada train trip had been cancelled. Two ladies from Switzerland were crestfallen when I told them a strike was on, and their trip tomorrow would be impossible. :(
 

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I'd be totally pssed at a Coach Canada strike!

I saw some very sad faces today when people found out their dream of a cross Canada train trip had been cancelled. Two ladies from Switzerland were crestfallen when I told them a strike was on, and their trip tomorrow would be impossible. :(
I forgot about the Swiss Miss factor. This IS a problem! :p
 

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Why Are Canadian's going on strike suddenly almost every city has a mass strike , what do they think there gonna get out of it , its a Global Recession :eek:hno:
That is what I was just thinking. Striking during a global recession is like watering your lawn in the rain.
 
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