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Rail News: Labor

CPR's temporary layoffs more a safety than cost-cutting issue, unions say


Canadian Pacific Railway’s plan to temporarily lay off 600 workers has drawn the ire of rail labor union officials.

The Class I expects the furloughs of operating and maintenance employees to range from a few weeks to a few months. The temporary layoffs are a cost-cutting measure in light of decreasing traffic, according to the railroad.

They’re more of a safety issue because the furloughs “put profits ahead of public safety,” Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Maintenance of Way Employees Division officials believe. Seventy-seven members have been laid off so far and more furloughs are expected, the union said.

"As winter begins and layoff notices go out, CPR alone has reported 25 derailments involving over 120 cars and engines to the Transportation Safety Board in the past month alone," said William Brehl, the division’s president and a member of Transport Canada's Advisory Council on Railway Safety, in a prepared statement. “[CPR’s] so-called efficiency plans are really Russian roulette involving millions of Canadians who live near railway lines."
Although traffic is down due to the economy, the railroad could have used this time for the mechanical department to institute “some badly needed” preventative maintenance programs, said Brian McDonagh, national representative for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW)-TCA, which reported 47 layoffs so far.

"Layoffs just before Christmas that will affect 600 Canadian families is one thing, derailments involving dangerous goods and cutting back on the men and women who work to prevent these accidents is something quite different," he said.

CPR officials referred to the temporary layoffs as a “bitter pill to swallow, but a harsh reality,” and a difficult but necessary business decision given the sluggish economy. The Class I also has implemented a hiring freeze, restricted air travel and suspended bonuses.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 12/18/2008