Southern Railway — the short-haul rail company operating freight service through the southern Fraser Valley in B.C. — locked out 134 unionized employees on Jan. 5.
The company shut the gates at work sites and, according to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), hired security guards to forcibly remove workers from the property. The lockout came as labour negotiations with CUPE reached a boiling point.
CUPE represents 126 of the affected employees while the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE) represents the remaining eight workers.
Several work sites — including the main rail sites of New Westminster Trapp Yard, Huntingdon in Abbotsford and Annacis Island in Delta — were affected by the lockout. Managers are currently operating the trains for a service area stretching from Vancouver to Chilliwack.
“We have a number of safety concerns with regard to managers who may appear to be qualified on paper now running trains despite, in many cases, having little experience actually running a train,” said CUPE 7000 president Bill Magri.
“Even those who have done so certainly have not put in the time, on a regular weekly basis, that our members have. So our primary concern is with public safety and maintaining the highest safety standards especially given thetransport of dangerous goods.”
The company initiated a vote on its final offer after nearly six months of negotiations on issues such as pay, benefits and overtime provisions. CUPE’s membership rejected the final offer by a 91 per cent margin.
According to Magri, management tabled a full concessionary package and was unwilling to address health and safety issues around fatigue and overtime as well as wages or working conditions.
CUPE 7000 members working at Southern Railway include conductors, engineers, brakemen, locomotive repair and maintenance as well as trackmen and employees supervising the switching between lines.
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