Trains back on track brings relief for Teck in Trail

Union members unhappy but comply with back-to-work order

A financial disaster was avoided for the city’s largest employer when the federal government legislated CP Rail employees back to work Friday.

As the national rail company’s biggest customer, Teck Resources Ltd. was bracing itself for the financial fallout of a prolonged rail strike when federal Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt and the Conservative government passed back-to-work legislation Thursday night.

Marcia Smith, Teck’s senior vice president of sustainability and external affairs, said the effect of the brief job action last week likely won’t register when the quarterly financial picture is developed in July, but there was some concern over the incident.

“In a nutshell, any strike like that when you are captive to a railway is serious, because it has a spill over effect on all sorts of people in the province and across the country,” she said from Teck headquarters in Vancouver.

“Anything that impacts our ability to do our operations is serious.”

But with no trains running for one day while the workers — including locomotive engineers, conductors, yard workers and others — forced Canada’s second-biggest railway to shut down freight operations, that meant 30 car loads of product, both in bound and out bound, were halted at Teck’s Trail Operation.

“Obviously not getting product in and not getting product out does have an effect on our operations,” said Smith.

The Kootenay Valley Rail (KVR) line — that runs from Creston to Trail — is owned and operated by CP and is staffed with CP employees, and was affected by the strike. The line moves product for Teck, Zellstoff Celgar pulp mill and Interfor sawmill in Castlegar.

But because the job action was brief it did not have any impact in terms of Teck having to curtail any operations, Smith noted. She said there were a number of operational plans ready to put in place to deal with a potentially long strike, but could not say what those would have been.

On its website, the Mining Association of Canada said its member companies will now have a backlog of work to catch up on as they return to rail usage to get supplies to work sites and products to market.

CP Rail resumed operations across its entire Canadian freight network Friday morning after the union representing the 4,800 strikers, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, asked its members to end their walkout when the legislation became law Thursday night.

Teamsters Local 563 union representative for the KVR line, Don Conway, said the 24 West Kootenay members were not happy with how the company or government went into these negotiations, but they did honour back-to-work legislation.

Ten hours after the union went on strike and the negotiations had failed — picketing Teck on May 23, as well as the CP Rail station in Castlegar and Nelson — minister Raitt was preparing back-to-work legislation, he said.

“Now why would CP Rail management bargain with us, when they know the government would force us back to work?” he said.

The biggest sticking point in negotiations was pension and fatigue of conductors and engineers while operating trains, said Conway. The workers last contract expired in January.

The back-to-work law sends the labour dispute to a government-appointed arbitrator, who has 90 days to impose a deal.