CN Rail: Ratification Divided

A rank and file perspective on negotiations and union representation at CN

By Andy @ CN

As the membership of USW Local 2004 whimper over the ratification of Canadian National Railway’s (CN) offer, it has become abundantly clear that our USW leadership has completely missed the mark with negotiations.

First, one has to ask, “Why, amidst CN’s record profits of over $844 million in the last quarter, are we still presented with an offer that required concessions of the USW local 2004 membership?” This is just one of the critical questions that has gone unaddressed by the union leadership.

Corporate Bullying
When coming to work at CN, one is lead to believe that they will be “Living the dream.” In reality, however, it feels more like a nightmare to most. Just like a schoolyard bully, CN thrives on a culture of fear. railroaded-cn-derailment-apr-25-20122

The internal systems and training for management promote the regular chastising and badgering of employees. Supervisors, who behave like dictators, are generally rewarded with bonuses and promotions for this behaviour. One only need to take a peek at the backlog of grievances to instantly understand that there is a serious discord between Canadian National Railway and its USW membership.

The company’s status quo has put its employees in dangerous, high-pressure situations, with inadequate resources, limited time, and a continuous demand for higher production levels. Employees are required “do what it takes” even if it means breaking company rules, and even laws, in the process – if they don’t, individuals find themselves the target of a campaign by management to have the employee terminated, or at least punished.

Having set itself up similar to a small nation within Canada’s own borders, CN operates with relative impunity. The general sentiment when issues are brought up through the CN system is “If you don’t like it, sue me?”, with management knowing the membership will face a David and Goliath type battle.

It is my belief, and I expect the belief of most other USW Local 2004 members, that our USW bargaining committee should never entertain the idea of negotiating a new agreement until this bullying regime is addressed.

Disregard of the Grievance Process
As can be expected, when a company like Canadian National Railway feels it does not need to respect its unionized employees, there will likely be a number of resulting grievances. It is unfortunate that CN takes lightly the matters behind the grievances. Rather than addressing the matter, the company chooses to continue to disregard what it doesn’t like within the collective agreement, and waffles by delaying the grievance process. For example, we currently have hundreds of grievances that have exceeded the timelines outlined in our collective agreement.

Company response to injury
Hands down, there is a vicious dichotomy between safety and production expectations within Canadian National Railway.

The company keeps a polished facade of safety training that is designed to offload the liability for injury or accident onto the employee. So rather than having compassion for a fallen employee, those who report injuries are always considered to be at fault.

The interrogation and investigations after an injury are intense and intrusive, with management going so far as demanding to attend the medical exam after an incident with a member. Some at the company have gone so far as to suggest a lesser medication at the medical exam to avoid FRA injuries, the railroad equivalent of a lost time accident

To make matters worse, in 6 years, I have never seen an injury go without some form of discipline. In essence, an injured employee is likely to be criminalized for having the misfortune of getting hurt in a very dangerous environment. This is the context in which thousands of employees work.

Contractors
As CN has grown, so to has the effort to maintain its infrastructure. Of course, the workforce has not grown fast enough to keep up with this need. To amplify the dilemma, the vast, ageing workforce of the past is set to retire. The proper method of addressing this situation would be to grow the number of permanent workers, with contractors used only on exceptional occasions. However, this is not happening at the company.

Rather than properly funding positions, and advertising the available position, CN is posting very few company jobs, waiting for situations to get dire from section to section, and hiring vast amounts of contractors under the guise of “emergency measures”.

Sometimes CN managers are bold enough to use contractors when their regular members are ready, willing and available to accomplish the same task. Everyday more contractors are used in a “cat and mouse” game of “catch us if you can” this evil regime chooses to play.

Derailing The Results
I have to express my sense of alarm when the chief steward travels the Mountain Region, telling the USW Local 2004 membership stories that will frighten workers into submission. The usual threats include: “If they don’t vote yes to the proposal they will lose”, “The government will legislate you back to work”, or “An arbitrator will rule in the companies favour.”

Please forgive me, but I believe it is the job of our elected USW officials to explain the offer, listen to the issues and concerns of the membership, and fight tooth and nail if we vote it down an unfair offer by the company.

It’s also important to note that the members were told a “No” vote would result in a strike, which swayed the vote considerably. With only 47% of the members casting a vote, and a 55% ratification it is a poor turnout at best. The truth is the membership was scared into something most of them didn’t want, or had already lost faith in.

This is proof that the parts of the executive have lost touch with its members and are more concerned with personal gain then that of the bargaining unit. The results of the ratification vote speak volumes.

It’s time to elect a new committee that will fight for our members, instead of cowering and jamming a poor contract down the line. It’s time to get our local back on track.

The members were given a poor offer that resulted in a divided membership. But the results also speak to the fact that its time for change, and those who have lost their fight need to move on. Rather than sit and ponder, or complain, it’s time to rise up. It’s time to make a change. It’s time to elect a new committee that will fight for our members, instead of cowering and jamming a poor contract down the line. It’s time to get our local back on track.

“Andy” is a 10-year veteran employee at CN and a member of USW Local 2004, which represents over 4,300 engineering department workers at one of North America’s largest railways.

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8 thoughts on “CN Rail: Ratification Divided

  1. I agree with this 100% if you report a injury your BLACK BALLED from the Forman right up the top superiors and thats no
    fucking bullshit

  2. This is super accurate. The super visors are school yard bullies. The more you fight back the more your punished. There is alot of favoritism happening. Probably the reason for most of the grievences. I have been with the comapny for 9 years and there has been alot of changes and not for the better.

  3. I was surprised we cut our dental benefits and even more surprised we have no chiropractor or massage therapy benefits.

  4. The majority of the above is quite true. What it fails to address is the fact that the membership is as it is – divided at the grass roots level, but not because of the ratification or the fault of the Executive – it is because of the old school vs the new school. There are those within the rank and file who would never, ever vote for a strike. Those are present by the thousands. You all know the ones – those who believe they should scrounge every single minute of overtime up to and including their rest days and well into the time they should be seeking rest. Back in the days of being laid off for 5 months of the year or so, that was understandable.
    The membership is divided not because of the Executive, the Bargaining Committee or the individual Chief Stewards – it is divided because of itself. The majority seem to think the Executive have hidden benefits or “perks” or “they are in it for themselves”. Nothing is further from the truth. Often, not seldom or hardly ever, but often they put in 18 hour days, countless times away from home, alone in hotel rooms, on the phone with other Chief Stewards or the President, or even with the Company well into the night.
    Any Chief Steward worth a damn must know the collective agreement almost by memory. This is accomplished by dedication and hard work and repetition. The name of the game is having a stable Executive. A stable united Executive that remains at the helm is not only feared by CN lowly supervisors, but are deathly afraid of in the eyes of CN senior types. This long term stability proves rank and file support. It is this support that gives the Union Executive its “power”. Changing the Executive members every 3 years merely shows the Board of Directors there is insecurity and mistrust. This gives them the proof there will never be a strike.
    The Executive MUST have that “power” to walk into negotiations with that strike threat in their briefcases. Without it, CN knows it has you by the balls.
    A Chief Steward traveling around any Region saying the membership can’t vote for a strike or an Arbitrator will simply order them back to work, shouldn’t be a Chief Steward. It’s your job to vote his ass out at the next election. Just because this has taken place in certain instances, does not mean it will happen. Think back to the CAW strike a few years back when Harrison hired his goons to try and break them on the picket line. A judge ruled NO return to work order.
    And why hasn’t the Local 2004 of the USW gone on strike. I repeat, because there are those who would vote for every contract, regardless of the offer. In most ratifications, you’re only trying to outvote each other. Economy plays a very important role in the voting process. Would you vote to strike if losing your house and car was on the line ??? Would you vote to strike for 50 members on the other side of Canada whose mail-in survey included their birthdays off with pay ???
    Injuries !!! All I can say is – don’t get hurt. Work within the rules and it’s virtually impossible to sustain an injury. You’re cutting corners because the supervisor expects it and this is when accidents happen. You have reduced the time it takes to complete a job by cutting corners and speeding it up to complete the job to keep the Foreman and supervisor happy. And now, that time is expected. I urge you to take that time back and make it an acceptable time frame under the rules and safety regulations.
    I do many jobs here at home that I use to do at work. You know what? In the past 7 years, since my retirement – haven’t been injured once !
    Now, for your information – your Bargaining Committee is the Local 2004 Executive, plus one or two, or even three USW employees from the National Office, or perhaps even the International Office. You have the power to re-elect your Executive every 3 years. Although I disagree that you should do this once you have an experienced group who have the membership’s priorities at the forefront, then you must allow them to gain more and more support from those die hard whiners.
    So who whines? It’s those who bitch about the weather, CN, the Union and its leadership, their spouses, their lack of money, their kids…….the ones who you know for a fact, will bitch about the temperature of the coffee at the gas bar when you stop to fill up and grab a lunch on the way to the gang. You also hear them attempt to disrupt the Union meetings bitching why there’s no doughnuts or the coffee’s not hot enough. Then, there’s the one who comes to a Union meeting bitching from the time they walk in the door until they are hit up with the latest rumour that they are the next CN supervisor !!! Oh yes, I’ve seen it all.
    Back to the Chief Steward advising members that a “No” vote would result in a strike for a few minutes here. That is totally untrue. A “NO” vote would simply toss out what you’ve just voted down and send your bargaining team back to the table. In some instances, a ratification would also include a strike mandate question. i.e., “Are you in favour of a strike if the ratification is negative?” That is NOT a strike vote – a majority with a “Yes” vote merely provides your negotiation team with that “briefcase support” I mentioned earlier going back to the table.
    To gain inroads with CN Rail, the membership must stand united. If it means going on strike for a nickel for off-shift work, then do it. If it means going on strike to turn down a 2% raise in favour of a 3% one, then do it.
    Here’s what is overlooked by the Executive AND the membership. CN is very reluctant to change or add to the collective agreement. Sure, there’s those little things they have no choice about, raises etc. But, what they prefer are items that are “ADDENDUMS” – they love this. If it doesn’t form part of the collective agreement, then how does one submit a grievance ? Think about that the next time you get a ratification in the mail !!!
    What else is worth a strike vote?
    One of the major issues I had was going for additions to the collective agreement which affected retirement. It is a well proven fact – current working members will refuse to strike for gains to retirees, even though it will be helpful when they, themselves, retire.
    Currently, I pay $187 per month under the CN Pensioners’ Blue Cross Health Care Plan. And that does NOT include dental as it isn’t even offered under the Pensioners’ Plan. Yes – it isn’t even an option.
    Prescription Drugs are only covered 80%. Glasses and the like are not much better. Other Unions with companies that earn billions of $$$ have fully paid medical benefits. Why don’t we? Because current working members refuse to strike for improved retirement benefits, that’s why. Food for thought.
    Andy, what you have mentioned above has little to do with negotiations. What you have listed are basically daily issues that most members face. Corporate Bullying, Disregard of the Grievance process, injuries, contractors and finally the ratification process – sounds like your election platform to me !
    But, what I really see is just you whining – I don’t see any suggestions to resolve these issues, as you call them. other than to change the Executive. I fail to see what that will accomplish. You don’t offer anything up to prove that.
    Prior to each bargaining session, a mailout is sent to all members requesting their input into what they feel should be bargained. Your items listed above ranked extremely low on the priority list. Wages, vacation, sick pay, regular overtime, living expenses while away from home, hotel vs bunk cars, mileage allowance, Sun Life increase – basically, anything that was MONEY RELATED !! Non-monetary items had little priority.
    6, 10 or even 20 members in a lone city across the entire country voting to include supervisor injury harassment in negotiations obviously will not make the cut through to print for the Executive to take to the bargaining table.
    After being retired for 7 years now, I have learned the following;
    CN provides absolutely nothing(other than a low meager life insurance policy) to your retirement.
    The use of contractors are entrenched in the collective agreement – get used to it, or go on strike to get it removed. That particular clause had zero mention in the mail back survey FYI.
    The company does not disregard the Grievance Procedure. It actually prefers it. It keeps the subject of the grievance in limbo(still in violation) until it is either settled or goes to Arbitration. And even then, it isn’t guaranteed the violations will stop. I can attest to that.
    Negotiations are not a game. It takes years of training and years of experience. With all due respect, you do not send the inexperienced, loudmouth wannabe from Butthole, Anywhere, Canada to go head on with the likes of Hunter Harrison and his cronies with a hammer in your briefcase. What is there about, “eat you up and spit you out in the first minute” do you not understand?
    In closing – you are there to do a job – do it. CN pays you to do that job. If you don’t like that job, quit – simple as that. Do it as best as you can under the rules and regulations provided and by the terms of the collective agreement. You can’t go wrong when it comes to abiding by the rules and not getting hurt. And as for the ratification of the vote – don’t blame the Executive – they didn’t vote for it – the members did. One thing I found out by attending Union meetings – if the members didn’t like something, regardless of what any elected member stated, it was voted down ! And I would be one of the first ones voting against something I didn’t agree with.

    John Dinnery

  5. One more thing…..be very careful about what you post on this site or any other site on the internet. If it can even be slightly interpreted to be negative about CN, they will fire your ass. And in all likelihood, even an Arbitrator will agree with their decision.

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