B.C. railway chugs along with replacement workers during lockout despite controversy

Difference between federal and provincial labour laws front and centre as railway uses replacement workers after it can’t reach agreement with union

A British Columbia railway company that has locked out its employees for more than a month is facing pressure to stop using replacement workers.

Rocky Mountaineer Railtours, a luxury train service for tourists that travels through the Rocky Mountains in B.C. and Alberta, has been without a contract with its union, Teamsters Local 31, since February. The two sides have been at an impasse over issues such as overtime, scheduling and wages. After mediation was unsuccessful, the railway locked out more than 100 employees — mostly on-board attendants — on June 22.

Rocky Mountaineer immediately hired replacement workers to keep the trains running after the lockout came into effect, a controversial move since using replacement workers during a lockout or strike is illegal under B.C. labour law. However, railways such as the Rocky Mountaineer are federally regulated and federal law allows replacement workers during a work stoppage.

As the lockout dragged into its second month, the B.C. Federation of Labour and nine Vancouver city councilors sent a letter to the railway urging it to stop treating its employees as “disposable people to be used and discarded” and end its use of replacement workers, “an act that would be illegal under provincial law.”

However, Rocky Mountaineer spokesman Ian Robertson said it was well within the company’s rights under federal law to keep its service running for tourists and wasn’t using a legal loophole to use what the union called “scabs.”

"I’ve certainly heard that word on the picket line," Robertson told the Vancouver Observer. "But we are a federally operated company and have every legal right to hire temporary workers."

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