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CN strikers: 'It's not about pay, it's about improving our quality of life'

Capreol Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Division 728 joins nation-wide strike

Better and safer working conditions are top of mind for the 94 local Canadian National (CN) Railway employees who hit the picket lines in Capreol Tuesday as part of a nation-wide strike involving 3,200 workers.

"We want to ensure that every one of our brothers and sisters go home safely," said Carter McDavid, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference chairman of Division 728, which represents the local CN workers. 

"We also want to be able to have a life apart from working at CN Rail, and those are the types of things they're trying to take from us."

CN Rail was given a 72-hour-notice of the strike Saturday, following seven months of failed negotiations with TCRC. 

Negotiations include the health and safety of the corporation's conductors, trainpersons and yard workers such as those under the care of the local TCRC Division 728, who have been without a contract since July 23.

McDavid, the father of two, has been working as a CN Rail conductor for just under nine years and been the local union representative for the past three, having moved into the position following his father's 18-year tenure. 

When asked his thoughts leading up the final decision to strike, McDavid admits he had mixed feelings but was motivated to take a stand in defence of the issues and concerns he felt had not been taken seriously.

One of the union's primary concerns is the safety of conductors in major city centres such as Toronto, Edmonton and Montreal, where McDavid said workers are put in dangerous situations through the use of a device called a "belt-pack."

A belt pack is a device worn around a conductor's waist which gives them the ability to control the train's engine in place of an engineer. To use this device, McDavid said conductors must stand on the side of a moving train with two feet, one hand on a ladder, using the opposite hand to operate the device. 

This process means conductors may have to hang off the side of a train for five to six miles at a time, regardless of temperatures.

To improve this system, McDavid said the union is asking that conductors be given the option to ride inside the train or walk beside the train at their discretion. 

A request which McDavid said has fallen "on deaf ears" thus far. 

"The sad thing is that the company's third-quarter profit is sitting at $3.8 billion, and to get those assurances, they're asking us to give up key parts of our contract that are going to eliminate jobs, and that's the position that we're in."

McDavid could not provide an estimate as to when he believes or hopes the two parties will come to an agreement, but said he is prepared to fight for as long as it takes.

"Our brothers and sisters fought in the past for what we have today, and it's up to us to fight to keep them and fight for our brothers and sisters 10, 15, 20 years down the road," he said. 

While no one hopes for a strike, McDavid's brother on the picket line, Jamie Zozera, said as a contract worker it is something you have to prepare for when negotiations begin. Having been raised in a railroading family prior to spending 12 years in the trade himself, this is something Zozera said he has become used to but never discouraged him from a career as a conductor.

"As far as a career in providing for my family, this was the best bit."

The confidence is boosted by the support of his family and community, who he said understand that although this circumstance is less than ideal, it is for a greater cause. 

"It's not necessarily about pay, we make enough money doing what we do," said Kozera. "It's just about improving the quality of life for all of us."

Find more information on the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference here

Keira Ferguson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: Keira Ferguson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

A graduate of both Laurentian University and Cambrian College, Keira Ferguson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, funded by the Government of Canada, at
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