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What really happened at Via Rail

CLEVELAND, August 23 -- In an attempt to rebut the latest UTU spin-doctoring, here is what really happened concerning the operating crafts at Via Rail.

On March 7, 1997, Via Rail announced its initiative to merge the duties of the conductors with that of locomotive engineers. In addition to merging the operating crafts, Via Rail then sought a merger of the operating craft unions themselves — BLE and UTU. Via Rail filed an application pursuant to Section 18 of the Canada Labor Code to consolidate the unions. The BLE immediately objected to the forced consolidation of the operating crafts.

However, the UTU did not object. Instead of standing side-by-side with BLE to fight management and protect the jobs and crafts of its members, UTU leaders sided with management because they saw the Via Rail initiative as a chance to raid the BLE.

Subsequently, at hearings before the Canada Labor Relations Board (CLRB), the UTU requested that instead of a combination of the unions, that a winner-take-all election be held to determine which union would represent the combined operating crafts. BLE opposed a vote and continued to oppose the combination of operating crafts.

In spite of BLE objections, the CLRB ordered an election anyway. Had UTU sided with BLE in opposing craft elimination instead of selling out its members in hopes of raiding BLE, then perhaps this would be a different story.

However, the BLE was forced into a representation election it did not want to see happen, and forced to seek protections for a newly combined craft of workers. BLE leaders were forced to do what they could to protect their future members in the event BLE won the election.

As a result, the BLE secured an agreement from Via Rail, which, in turn, secured assurances from CN, that conductors negatively impacted by the combined craft would have the right to receive training as locomotive engineers or to flow back to CN to work as conductors.

The BLE eventually won the representation vote and became the new certified bargaining agent for all operating employees at Via Rail on October 31, 1997. The UTU leadership wound up with egg on their faces. Their plan to raid BLE had backfired and they lost the very representation election they lobbied to hold in the first place.

A problem arose later when CN reneged on its agreement with Via Rail to accept the flow back of conductors. Approximately 100 Via Rail conductors became “hostages” to the CN-VIA dispute. But thanks to the BLE agreement, they received full pay while they sat at home.

The entire dispute is based on CN and Via Rail not seeing eye-to-eye. The lawsuit that resulted from Via conductors -- who were at home on full pay thanks to the BLE agreement -- was orchestrated by the UTU, bitter at having lost the representation election in 1997.

According to Gilles Hallé, President of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), the UTU is misguided in stating that the BLE would be responsible for a levy or fine resulting from this lawsuit.

“It is not the union that breached a promise, but rather Via Rail,” he said. “Via Rail is the one who has refused all the demands, proposals and resolutions leading to the present outcome. They are the ones who will have to assume the liability, if any.”

He also noted that the Supreme Court of Canada has not levied any specific fines on the TCRC, BLET or Teamsters. For the UTU to claim so on its website is nothing more than irresponsible speculation, he said.

Halle concluded by stating that UTU membership in Canada is incredibly displeased by the actions of its International leadership. He cited the TCRC’s major victory over UTU Canada just last year, when the UTU attempted to raid the former BLE Canada at CP Rail, but the attack completely backfired. A wide majority of UTU membership voted to join the new TCRC rather than stay with the UTU. As a result of the UTU-forced election, the TCRC not only kept 1,700 engineers, but added 2,800 trainmen.

“The UTU news article was issued by very few of their frustrated officers to counteract the legitimate request of their membership in Canada to stop these nonsense attacks,” Halle said.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005
bentley@ble-t.org

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