NEWS

CP Railway union says collective bargaining 'under attack'

05/28/2012 12:42 EDT | Updated 07/28/2012 05:12 EDT

Collective bargaining is under attack by the government, the union representing Canadian Pacific Railway workers said today.

The union, which represents more than 4,800 workers, says CP management isn't bargaining with striking workers because the federal government announced it would bring in back-to-work legislation.

The union spoke to the media as Labour Minister Lisa Raitt introduced a motion to limit debate on the legislation in the House of Commons just after noon in Ottawa. The legislation itself likely won't be introduced until later this afternoon.

Doug Finnson, the union's chief negotiator, says it's only because the government said it would act that CP management isn't at the table.

"Collective bargaining in this country is under attack, certainly," he said.

"As long as the government intervenes in collective bargaining, and in my opinion, unfairly favours the employer, the employers are going to simply line up, every one of them… knowing that the government's going to intervene, suspend collective bargaining artificially, and get into this return-to-work legislation, which from what I understand in the past two experiences, has significantly favoured the employer," Finnson said, referring to legislation that forced Canada Post and Air Canada workers back to work.

In the case of Canada Post, management had locked out workers after 11 days of rolling strikes. The legislation imposed a final offer selection process to resolve the dispute.

Opposition MPs slam Conservative government

Opposition MPs said earlier in the day that the Conservative government took away any incentive for CP management to bargain when it announced it would introduce back-to-work legislation if talks didn't yield an agreement.

Raitt said last week that she had legislation ready to go Monday when the House of Commons returned from a week away.

Raitt made the announcement less than 12 hours after the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference started the strike. She introduced the legislation in the House just after noon ET.

Talks broke off Sunday between the rail company and the union representing 4,800 striking locomotive engineers and conductors.

Raitt is scheduled to give an update this afternoon, at 1:45 p.m. Transport Minister Denis Lebel, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, Industry Minister Christian Paradis and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz will join her.

NDP finance critic Peggy Nash, a former union negotiator, says announcing the government is prepared to intervene makes resolving the strike through negotiations much more difficult.

'Takes a lot more pressure' off employer

"If I'm the employer, I'm thinking it takes a lot more pressure off of me to not have to negotiate a settlement," Nash said.

"This government does not allow for free collective bargaining to find a resolve if they are constantly threatening to intervene on the side of the employer."

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair met with the union Monday morning in his office.

As with two previous labour disputes — affecting Air Canada and Canada Post — Raitt cited the damage to Canada's economic recovery for the necessity of bringing the strikes to an end.

The railway is Canada's backbone and links the country with major U.S. industrial centres, she said in her speech to the House.

"It is our sincere hope that the parties will find a way to settle their differences and come to a collective agreement," she said.

Raitt says the work stoppage is affecting Canada's reputation.

"We're only one link in a long supply chain. What happens here affects inbound and outbound traffic," she said.

"We cannot afford to be that weak link."

Raitt was spotted Monday morning heading into the office of Government House leader Peter Van Loan, who runs the Conservatives' agenda in the House.

The government is moving to limit debate on the motion, providing two hours of debate in the House, plus an hour for study at committee of the whole, where all MPs can ask questions, followed by 30 minutes for the final reading in the House. Under the motion, the bill would trump all other business in front of the House, and only cabinet ministers would be allowed to propose votes during the debate.

MPs will vote on the motion to apply time allocation Tuesday night.

Government 'hostile' to union negotiations

Liberal House Leader Marc Garneau says announcing workers could be legislated back to their jobs brings the whole process of collective bargaining to a grinding halt.

"You always allow the process to occur and you don't signal it right from the beginning that, listen, it's coming down the pike if you two can't get together. Because what it does is it affects the process in terms of legitimate bargaining and bargaining in good faith. And it's not fair."

"The government does this every time," Garneau said.

Management in labour disputes perceives arbitration will be to their advantage, Garneau added.

"This government sends that signal constantly to the private sector. We saw what they did with Canada Post, we saw what they did with Air Canada, and it's the approach of the government that is hostile to negotiations with the unions."

Both sides in the strike that began last Wednesday rejected a proposal made by the government-appointed arbitrator, according to Raitt, who told CBC News she was "disappointed."

Raitt said on Sunday that she would consult with her colleagues and she had already received concerned phone calls from the mining, manufacturing and agriculture industries. She also said it was important to hear from the businesses that have contacted her cabinet colleagues to determine what areas of the economy are being affected by the strike, and "whether we move quickly," she said.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) made a proposal to get both parties to voluntary arbitration, but "both parties very quickly, within an hour, came back and said no," said Raitt.

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