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why the transit strike affects only the SeaBus so far

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Photo: Seabus between Downtown Vancouver and North Vancouver

On Tuesday, Nov. 6, TransLink confirmed that another 14 SeaBus sailings would be cancelled on Nov.7 as a result of the transit strike issued by Unifor, the union representing bus operators and transit maintenance workers.

With this in mind, the transit authority hasn’t been able to comment on which bus routes will be affected. So far, it says that none of them have been.

Ben Murphy, Senior Media Relations Officer, TransLink, told Vancouver Is Awesome in an email that the SeaBus isn’t permitted to sail without a minimum number of crew on board  as required by Transport Canada.

“SeaBus is subject to strict minimum staffing requirements set out by Transport Canada,” writes Murphy.

“Every SeaBus is required to have 4 crew on the vessel, 2 shore-based engineers, and 2 attendants at each terminal.”

Since there is a shortage of skilled workers who can operate the SeaBus, the transit authority knows in advance of how many sailings will be cancelled. If someone is sick or on vacation, it relies on ‘flexible shifts who can cover absences.’

“Given there are limited relief staff, overtime can be necessary when employees are sick or on vacation,” states Murphy.

“Coast Mountain Bus Company also acknowledges that there is a shortage of skilled workers within the organization, which is why the current wage offer for skilled workers is more than 3 per cent each year.  This is well in excess of other public sector settlements in British Columbia of 2 per cent.”

Murphy says that all SeaBus crew and staff fall under Unifor 2200, which represents 1000 skilled trades and support workers employed by Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) in Metro Vancouver. As such, SeaBus crew are included in the strike on overtime maintenance work. And, since the SeaBus relies on overtime work to operate some of its sailings, it is unable to meet the demand.

In contrast, Unifor Local 111, the group that represents over 3,700 transit operators employed by CMBC, has issued a uniform ban, but not an overtime ban. As a result, it is much more difficult for the transit authority to know when the buses will be affected.

“Any bus service disruptions due to the union’s maintenance overtime ban will be harder to anticipate than SeaBus cancellations.  If there are any specific service adjustments or cancellations, we will update customers through regular communication channels, including our website, transit alerts, and social media,” writes Murphy.

Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor Western Regional Director, says that, without progress on core issues, nearly 5,000 members will escalate job action in the coming weeks.

The Port Coquitlam transit centre is one of the smallest in Metro Vancouver, with only six bays to service buses, half of which are currently occupied by ongoing upgrades to articulating buses that will be used in the rapid transit line between Coquitlam Central Station and Maple Ridge that is to open in January. To make matters worse, part of the bus company’s fleet that entered into service in 2006 is undergoing an overhaul and half of those service Port Coquitlam.

“You look at all of that combined, we’ll probably be reaching our capacity over the next few days,” said Michael McDaniel, Coast Mountain’s president and general manager.

Disruptions will likely begin with a bus or two down and some trips cancelled, added McDaniel. But if the OT ban continues, McDaniel said it will become increasingly difficult to keep buses on the road.

TransLink has been scaling back sailings on the busy Waterfront to Lonsdale Quay connector since Friday, Nov. 1, when Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) operators and maintenance workers represented by Unifor began job action.

The initial phase of the strike action began on Nov. 1 at 8 a.m., with operators not wearing their CMBC uniforms and maintenance workers not doing overtime.

Commuters can sign-up for Transit Alerts or follow @TransLink on Twitter for updates.

With files from Tri-City News. 

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Striking CN worker hit by truck in Saskatoon

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The employee suffered only minor injuries but is considering reporting the incident to police, according to the railway union.

A Canadian National Railway employee suffered minor injuries after being hit by a pickup truck on a Saskatoon picket line hours after the railway union began a nationwide strike.

It was not immediately clear what precipitated the incident. A spokesman for the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference said the employee is contemplating going to the police after ending up on the hood of the truck.

“It’s unacceptable that our members are being hit by pickup trucks on the picket line … We encourage all Canadians to show the same respect for striking workers as they would for anybody else,” spokesman Christopher Monette said.

Saskatoon police officers were called to the incident but the suspect was gone when they arrived, and it does not appear that an official report had been filed as of Wednesday afternoon, according to police spokeswoman Julie Clark.

Employees picket in front of the CN rail yard in Saskatoon, delaying traffic in and out of the area, on Nov. 19, 2019. Matt Smith / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

More than 3,000 CN conductors, trainspersons and yard workers hit the picket line at midnight on Tuesday, three weeks after their union voted 99.2 per cent in favour of strike action following a breakdown in talks.

A long line of tractor-trailers and other trucks snaked up the road leading to CN’s Chappell Yard on Wednesday afternoon, their progress slowed by a small group of picketing workers walking back and forth.

One truck driver whose rig was near the front of the line said he had been waiting to get into the railyard for about an hour; a picketer said they are letting trucks enter and leave the yards every few minutes.

Asked about the incident with the truck, the picketer said there have been “quite a few.”

There was some delight on the line when a woman waring a United Food and Commercial Workers bib showed up to distribute cups of hot soup, an apparent act of solidarity from one union to another.

Within hours of the strike being called, Saskatchewan agricultural groups and the provincial government were calling on Ottawa to take “immediate action” — presumably by recalling parliament to pass back-to-work legislation and end the strike.

“It can’t go very long. It really can’t,” Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Dave Marit told reporters in Regina on Tuesday.

“I mean, as I said, we’re coming off one of our biggest harvests ever, with a fall that we’ve never seen before. This is a time when farmers are selling their product and moving it,” he said.

“We also have to really be concerned about our country’s reputation and delivering product to other countries. It’s been at stake before and it could be at risk again.”

The federal government has in the past used back-to-work legislation, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was not in the cards during the brief Canadian Pacific Ltd. railway strike in May 2018.

Striking CN

Employees strike in front of the CN rail yard in Saskatoon, delaying traffic in and out of the area, on Nov. 19, 2019.

Matt Smith /

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

“Quite frankly, we have companies that have gotten used to the fact that in certain industries, the government in the past was very quick to legislate against unions … We are not going to do that,” Trudeau told reporters at the time.

Asked about provincial politicians calling for Ottawa to intervene, Monette said “everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” before emphasizing that CN workers are striking over unresolved safety issues.

Nine union members, including three members of the striking CN bargaining unit, have died in railway accidents over the past 24 months, and issues such as rest periods for workers need to be resolved, Monette said.

While negotiations with the railway company are ongoing, Monette said there has been no substantive progress in about a week.

CN representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

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CN strike could hit Canada Economic

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Thousands of Canadian National Railway workers went on strike Tuesday, threatening a crucial artery for exports of oil, grain, chemicals and minerals and leaving some vulnerable Prairie regions potentially without any mode of commercial transportation.

Talks in Montreal were ongoing Tuesday after 3,200 CN conductors, train and yard personnel stopped work at midnight. The company and union have been unable to bridge an impasse on items ranging from pharmaceutical benefits to time-off provisions.

The strike at Canada’s largest railway comes despite a push for a deal by Labour Minister Patty Hajdu and Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who met with union and CN representatives Monday. Union concerns include fatigue, safety and ensuring workers’ breaks aren’t reduced.

Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservatives, and Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage each separately urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Twitter to immediately recall Parliament. Trudeau has said he is not reconvening Parliament until Dec. 5 and the government cannot start the process to force workers back on the job until then.

Neither Via Rail nor commuter trains in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto – which run on CN tracks – are affected.

While grain farmers warned of massive economic damage that could result from a service reduction during peak shipping season, mining industry leaders foresaw layoffs and a threat to Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading partner.

A rail stoppage impacts both the ability of companies to deliver fuel and other inputs to their operations and to move mineral products and by-products out to customers.

“This strike will result in a severe reduction or elimination of railway capacity and will trigger the closure of mines with concurrent lay-offs of thousands of employees beginning in a matter of days,” Pierre Gratton, chief executive of the Mining Association of Canada, said in a statement.

He urged the government to impose binding arbitration on current and future labour disruptions involving Class 1 railroads.

Past strikes at CN and Canadian Pacific, the country’s second-largest railway, have tended to be brief, ending in a few days or less after back-to-work legislation was threatened or imposed. But the political calendar in Ottawa could make that solution difficult to implement this time around, said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.

“I am concerned this one will be a different animal because Parliament is not sitting,” said Porter, adding the lack of a recent extended rail strike makes estimating the economic impact difficult. “The fact that we are in a minority government situation and we haven’t even had a throne speech really complicates the timing.”

CN will likely be able to fill about 60 per cent of the lost conductor jobs with office managers and other workers that hold those certifications, limiting the impact on the railway, economists at CIBC World Markets said in a note.

“We therefore don’t see a material impact on GDP at this point,” CIBC economist Katherine Judge wrote.

The potential is for massive economic harm

Ward Toma, general manager, Alberta Canola

The strike comes during peak shipping season for wheat and canola farmers. Canada’s two largest commodity exports are typically harvested in September and October and transported via rail to shipping ports in Vancouver and Prince Rupert, B.C. There, they are transferred onto large vessels and shipped to key markets including China, Japan and Indonesia.

With little storage available at the ports, farmers rely on CN and CP to continuously move grains on most days of the year. Indeed, during the current shipping season, CN alone deploys about 5,600 rail cars a week for this purpose, said Tom Steve, general manager of the Alberta Wheat Commission.

“That’s over half a million tonnes of grain that won’t move if those cars aren’t able to be delivered into the system,” Steve said.

This year’s wheat and canola harvests have been delayed due to heavy snowfall across all three Prairie provinces, he added, leaving a significant amount of the crop under a blanket of snow. Farmers have also been struggling to dry canola and wheat due to unusually wet conditions.

“(Farmers) may not have harvested the crop yet and what they do have, well, if they can’t deliver it, they’re not paid,” Steve said. “So even a one-week interruption of rail service would be extremely concerning to us.”

Some northern Prairie communities that count canola farming and forestry among their most important industries are serviced entirely by CN. Companies in the Peace River region of northern Alberta and British Columbia, for instance, rely on CN to ship farm and forestry products, said Ward Toma, general manager of Alberta Canola.

“There’s a lot of agricultural acreage up there and a good million and a half acres of canola, most of it still under the snow,” he said. “The potential is for massive economic harm.”

Canada will export 21 million tonnes of wheat this year and about nine million tonnes of canola seed.

Any disruption in (oil) shipments would have serious consequences for an economy that is already dealing with severe bottlenecks

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage

Catching up on shipments of commodities after rail service is disrupted is extremely difficult given the limited capacity in the system, said Neil Townsend, a senior analyst at FarmLink Marketing Solutions.

“There’s only so many trains that can go through the mountains in British Columbia,” he said. “You can’t just double them. So that’s our constraint. If we miss a week we never get it back.”

Canadian steelmakers rely on rail to supply iron ore to their mills and to ship finished steel products out. Unlike other industries, steelmakers have the option of using other forms of shipping.

“But will there be supply when so many other industries are trying to do the same thing?” said Catherine Cobden, president of the Canadian Steel Producers’ Association. “That’s how critical the railroad is. If this goes on for any amount of time it could impact our members profoundly.”

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said maintaining rail was particularly important given the shortage of pipeline capacity.

“CN Rail regularly ships in excess of 170,000 barrels of Western Canadian oil per day,” Savage said in a statement. “Any disruption in shipments would have serious consequences for an economy that is already dealing with severe bottlenecks due to cancelled and delayed pipelines. Alberta cannot see further restrictions on our ability to export our product.”

A strike may temporarily constrain CN’s volumes, but will not likely have a meaningful long-term impact on the company’s earnings, Credit Suisse analysts said in a research note on Monday.

Shares of Montreal-based CN fell one per cent Tuesday, while the benchmark Canadian share index was up slightly.

With files from Reuters


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Complete bus shutdown for 3 days in metro Vancouver due to the Transit strike

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“This is not a stunt, this is real.”

Unifor Western Regional Director Gavin McGarrigle announced that Unifor, the union representing bus operators and transit maintenance workers, will move ahead with a “complete system shutdown.”

Photo: VANCOUVER – September 8, 2017: A high angle view of many commercial city buses parked in the terminal station in south Vancouver, Canada on September 8, 2017 / Shutterstock

Now in its 20th day, the strike has escalated from a uniform ban to an overtime ban for bus operators, and will proceed with a full system shutdown on Nov. 27 for three days.

McGarrigle and Unifor members of Locals 111 and 2200 held the press conference in New Westminster, highlighting a number of key issues.

“Unlike in 2001 when a four-month complete shutdown occurred, we have taken measured action designed to protect the public,” said McGarrigle.

McGarrigle noted that the bus drivers started by only issuing a uniform ban, and continued to work their full shift. Following that, he remarks that Coast Mountain Bus Company failed to come up with another offer after their last last meeting.

“The public is behind us, the public supports the workers, and it’s time for TransLink to change its course.”

McGarrigle added that the, “fiction that TransLink is not one entity has shown to be false,” noting that all company material is branded with TransLink logos and that the transit authority issues all of the rider alerts.

As previously highlighted in other appearances, McGarrigle stated that TransLink executives are paid significantly more than in other systems. Further, he reinforced that assaults on drivers have increased, yet working conditions have worsened due to overcrowding and congestion. He adds that TransLink also blames workers for service issues that are out of the transit operator’s control.

“Why should students pay for a U-pass for such an unreliable system? For every student that has trouble, we support your cause,” said McGarrigle.

Unifor members are also planning a rally at TransLink headquarters on Nov. 28.

“Join us for our rally and let’s get the Metro Vancouver bus system back in service as soon as possible,” he said.

McGarrigle notes that Union workers plans, “to return fully to the job on Saturday, Nov. 30.”

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