A long and winding labour dispute is over, but Rocky Mountaineer may never be the same.
After a 444-day lockout, the luxury tourist train service’s onboard workers voted Sept. 8 for a new, three-year deal. How many of them actually return to the rails was unknown at press time.
They had until Monday night to choose their jobs or take a buyout payment.
Teamsters Local 31 Stan Hennessy did not respond to interview requests, but a source who declined to be identified said 48 of 61 workers voted to accept the offer that included a 10 per cent wage rollback, sharing of tips with managers and seniority-based buyouts of $8,000 to $12,000.
Only three weeks remain in the season, and those workers who opt to return are expected to be back on the trains Sept. 21, said company spokesman Ian Robertson. Robertson refused to comment on the details of the settlement. “Throughout the whole process there was a real desire on both parts to try and get something done, it’s taken 14 months to get it done,” Robertson said.
Workers were without a contract since the start of 2011 and talks went nowhere. Rocky Mountaineer secretly hired replacement workers and deployed them almost immediately after locking out 108 Teamsters-represented workers on June 22, 2011. B.C. law prohibits replacement workers, but Rocky Mountaineer is federally regulated.
In summer 2011, Vision Vancouver and COPE councillors publicly called for Rocky Mountaineer founder Peter Armstrong, the Non-Partisan Association’s campaign chairman, to return to the bargaining table. Also in 2011, the company got a court injunction to limit picketing and supplied security guards with video cameras. The company enticed taxi drivers to cross the picket lines with cards for free fuel. In March of this year, the company’s gardeners cut limbs off trees on a public boulevard outside the False Creek Flats station. Picket signs were often hung on the trees, but Robertson claimed it was a mistake.
On June 22, 2012, B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair, NDP caucus chair Shane Simpson and members of various unions rallied outside the station on the first anniversary of the lockout. Sinclair said at the time that Rocky Mountaineer’s new chairman, former VANOC CEO John Furlong, shared the blame for not bringing the sides together.
Robertson wouldn’t comment on how the company’s finances were impacted or whether its surprise offer last week was driven by a bid to expand eastward or was in response to a potential corporate restructuring.
“This dispute has been challenging for both sides, at this point it’s about focusing on the future and moving forward,” Robertson said. “The contract that we have reached with the unionized onboard hosts is fair, it represents the reality of the tourism economy and sets us up to continue to be a successful organization for many more years to come.”
The company is planning to launch its Coastal Passage route to Seattle and expand SilverLeaf service in 2013, but Robertson claimed he was unaware of meetings that president Randy Powell had with the federal government aimed at privatizing Via Rail routes.
The federal lobbyist registry shows that Powell has met with a dozen officials, including Transport Minister Denis Lebel, Minister of State for Transport Steven Fletcher, Deputy Minister Yaprak Baltacioglu and Minister of State for Finance Ted Menzies. The Globe and Mail reported that Powell opposed Via Rail plans to spend $25 million on luxury cars and that privatization was to be discussed at a December 2011 meeting between Powell and Fletcher.