Rocky Mountaineer workers face another lost year

Vision, COPE councillors urged owner to stop using replacement workers

Last Junes lockout of 108 Rocky Mountaineer on-board attendants was just the beginning of Tina Richardsons derailment.

The single mother of three got an eviction notice after she couldnt afford to pay rent in September. Her three-year-old son Sean was diagnosed with leukemia in October.

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Were eight-and-a-half months without any resolution, it doesnt look hopeful, said Richardson, a 22-year veteran of the upscale tourist train. The company is getting away with hiring cheap, scab labour.

Teamsters Union Local 31 and owner Great Canadian Railtours hit an impasse last July. The federally regulated company finished 2011 with replacement workers and is recruiting a new batch for next months 2012 season launch. Each and every trip that I did, thousands of guests that I served, I would tell them all the time how blessed I was to have such an incredible job, Richardson said. If Rocky Mountaineer had a history of treating their employees like this, it wouldnt be so incredibly devastating.

Workers voted to switch from the Canadian Auto Workers to Teamsters in January 2011 before negotiations began. The dispute wound up in both the political arena and courts last summer. Vision Vancouver and COPE councillors urged owner Peter Armstrong, the NPA campaign chairman, to stop using replacements and return to the bargaining table. B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck found the union in contempt of court for obstructing people and vehicles at the False Creek Flats station and North Vancouver depot. Evidence included video footage shot by company-hired security guards.

Clearly we have a responsibility to protect our guests and protect our employees, said Ian Robertson, Rocky Mountaineers spokesman and former NPA park board commissioner. If the union were to picket in a lawful way there wouldnt be a need for security guards to be filming their unlawful actions.

Richardson said the company hired a bagpiper to drown out chanting union members. It also used $10 gas cards to entice drivers of taxicabs to cross the picket line. Thats correct, Robertson said. We, through last year, wanted to recognize and reward the taxi companies for providing outstanding service to our guests.

Teamsters Local 31 secretary-treasurer Rod Blackburn said members were paid $16.49 an hour plus a $2.90 per hour end-of-season bonus. The expired contract included a three-year wage freeze. Blackburn said the company wanted to roll back wages by two per cent and force attendants to share hotel rooms.

Robertson, who said he is not directly involved in negotiations, claimed owner Armstrong, board chairman John Furlong and president Randy Powell were all unavailable for interviews. Ever since this dispute started, weve been very clear that were not going to negotiate through the media, Robertson said. I am not going to respond to any specific claims or requirements put forward by the union.

Teamsters and supporters, including B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair, rallied Monday at the Station and marched to the Rocky Mountaineer corporate office on Terminal Drive.

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