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Rocky Mountaineer lockout a "nasty strike": union

"This employer is using scabs to put my members out of work," an angry Rod Blackburn, secretary-treasurer of Teamster Local 31 told the Tyee on July 7. "This is a nasty strike in which the employer is waging war on our members."

Blackburn's local represents over a hundred train attendants who work on the Mountaineer's luxury tourist trains. The Teamster members have been locked out by their employer since June 22.

Frustrated by negotiations in which their concerns about overtime pay and scheduling were not being addressed, the Teamsters had taken a successful strike vote the week before. The Rocky Mountaineer, which is operated by the politically well-connected Armstrong Group, with ties to Vancouver's NPA and Alberta Tories, responded to the strike vote by issuing the lockout order and running their operation with management staff and a group of new workers (who union members see as scabs taking their jobs, and Armstrong Group managers see as legally permitted "replacement workers"). 

Whether you call them scabs or replacements, these new workers were apparently already being recruited on Craigslist on May 26, nearly a month before the lockout.

Blackburn and Rocky Mountaineer spokesman Ian Robertson agree that contract negotiations are stymied in disagreements about overtime pay.

Blackburn says that the contract's existing overtime arrangements are unacceptable, allowing the employer to work attendants 16 hours a day for 20 days, then take them off the schedule for a while and end up paying only straight time for all the hours worked. (Local 31 has recently won the right to represent Mountaineer workers, who were previously represented by the Canadian Autoworkers.)

"The employer has stalled for months at the table and now they have locked us out and are operating with scabs," Blackburn said.

Robertson, speaking for the Rocky Mountaineer, objected to calling the workers now performing Teamster work on the luxury trains "scabs." He pointed out that his company is regulated by federal legislation that permits the hiring of "replacement workers" during a strike or lockout, and said that his firm is just trying to preserve the valuable service provided by the Mountaineer trips.

"Many of our guests are here for the trip of a lifetime, and some have come from around the world. We are obligated to provide this service," Robertson said.

He charged that union pickets had been intimidating customers and replacement workers, which the Teamsters' Blackburn denied.

"Our picket line has been boisterous," the Teamster official said, "but no one has been intimidated. These workers are really people and service oriented, and they have been very congenial with passengers crossing their line to board the trains. Using scabs is provocative, but my members have not responded to that provocation. This is one of the nicest picket lines I've ever been on."

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy issues for the Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips here.

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