Canadian Pacific Railway ‘went too far,’ says Teamsters

CIRB files order with court to force railroad to stop cancelling local agreements

Canadian Pacific Railway has allegedly ignored an order by the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) to stop unilaterally cancelling local agreements, according to the Teamsters. In response, the board has filed its order with the Federal Court of Canada to give it the full weight of a court order.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) filed a complaint with the CIRB in October 2012, claiming CPR was participating in unfair labour practices and cancelling local agreements.

The board decision found “that the employer’s actions in cancelling a large majority of the local agreements at the time and in the manner that it did, violated section 94(1)(a) of the code. The parties will find attached an order directing the employer to cease and desist from the wholesale cancellation of local agreements and to reinstate the local agreements that were cancelled.”

But after the decision was made, it was ignored, according to the union.

The company is treating collective agreements as impediments, said Douglas Finnson, vice-president of the TCRC.

“I think that (CPR) is under a great deal of pressure from their new CEO to make wholesale changes and what they did was tried to implement all these changes when they simply didn’t have the right to,” he said. “They tried to obtain things that they couldn’t obtain at the bargaining table and they… obviously went too far.”

CPR declined to comment.

The effect of the cancellation of these local agreements on Teamsters’ members has varied. In some locations, it has completely destabilized the workplace. In other places, it has been less dramatic, said Finnson.

“I think what this demonstrates is (CPR’s) new attitude is to completely ignore existing agreements and to treat agreements and the collective agreement as simply an impediment.”

The union returned to the CIRB again after the original decision was ignored. The CIRB scheduled another hearing with the parties and in a March 22 decision, it stated, “the Board has no difficulty finding that the employer has failed to comply with Order no. 699-NB, and that given the employer’s past conduct, there is every likelihood that it will continue to fail to comply with the order in the future.”

The decision by the CIRB to file its decision with the Federal Court is one Finnson said he’s never seen before in the rail industry.

“It’s a unique situation that the board saw fit to register its decision with the Federal Court. That is unique, that doesn’t happen,” he said. “In fact it’s never happened in the rail industry in my knowledge.”

In the majority of cases, the losing party in an action before a tribunal, such as the CIRB, will comply with the directions or orders set out in the decision, said Keith Burkhardt, a lawyer at Sherrard Kuzz LLP in Toronto.

When a party refuses or otherwise fails to comply with a decision, the aggrieved party can return to the CIRB to have the order confirmed and restated, he said.

In some circumstances, the tribunal will file a copy of its decision with another court. It’s more common for tribunals to file their decisions with the Federal Court, but they can also be filed with the provincial superior court, although that happens much less often, he said.

There is no obligation on the CIRB to take this action, Burkhardt said.

There are no other enforcement mechanisms that will ensure compliance with the order under the Canada Labour Code.

“Once the decision is filed with the court, it will become a court order and can be enforced as such,” said Burkhardt. “As a result, if a party is served with the court order and refuses to comply with it, the other party can bring a motion to have that party or person held in contempt of court.”

If a party is found to be in contempt, the court can take a number of actions. It could have the person arrested and put in jail until she complies with the order or it can take any other action that will ensure the order, and therefore the decision of the CIRB, is complied with, he said.

In this specific matter, the CIRB had ordered CPR to not follow through with a plan to cancel certain local agreements which supplemented the collective agreement between the parties, Burkhardt added.

“When (CPR) took actions that were clearly in violation of that decision/order, the Teamsters returned to the CIRB to request that they send the decision to the Federal Court,” said Burkhardt. “The CIRB agreed with the Teamsters and sent the decision on to the court. At that point, if (CPR) did not comply with the decision, the Teamsters could have the decision served on directors or other senior management… and if they continued to not comply, could be put in jail until the company reversed its course of action.”

As far as the local agreements go, the union is hoping the company stops cancelling them.

“We’re hoping (CPR) fills its obligations, reinstates all the local agreements and makes restitution to all those employees that were affected. In the long term, we’re hoping (CPR) will comply with the collective agreements and all the negotiated agreements.”

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