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Canadian labor-relations board rules VIA Rail, BLE must pay lost wages to former conductors, UTU says


Five years ago, 230 VIA Rail conductors and assistant conductors lost their jobs, but now they might be entitled to several years worth of lost wages.

Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) recently ruled in favor of the former United Transportation Union-represented employees, who filed a complaint against Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, charging that BLE represented them in a manner that was "arbitrary, discriminatory and in bad faith," according to a UTU statement.

BLE and VIA Rail might have to pay up to $230,000 per conductor.

In 1997, VIA Rail combined its conductor and locomotive engineer positions, and trained all affected employees to meet new position qualifications.

CIRB mandated a representation election between BLE and UTU — BLE won by a narrow margin, in part because of the organization’s assurances to provide craft autonomy, separate committees of adjustment for former conductors and assistant conductors, and engineer training. BLE also assured conductors that if they were not promoted to locomotive engineers at VIA Rail, they would be placed in similar positions at Canadian National Railway Co.

But when the union and VIA Rail negotiated a new contract in 1998, a majority of former UTU-represented workers’ positions were eliminated, while no BLE-represented workers lost their jobs, UTU said. UTU workers were not offered the promised training for locomotive engineer positions, which were made available to BLE-represented employees.

In 1999, CIRB ruled in favor of the conductors, and ordered VIA Rail and BLE to renegotiate crew agreements, provide training for the locomotive engineer positions and establish seniority lists. CIRB also required BLE to hire a negotiator for the conductors during the contract process.

Last month, CIRB issued new penalties, ordering VIA Rail to reform the seniority system, and the locomotive engineer training and selection process, and VIA Rail and BLE to reimburse affected former conductors for lost earnings and legal fees.

CIRB will decide contractors’ compensation on an individual basis, and determine how much VIA Rail and BLE will be responsible for.

VIA and BLE might appeal the decision, UTU said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/6/2003