UNIONIZED employees of the Rocky Mountaineer rail tour company who been on the picket lines for more than a year may soon be sharing shifts with their replacement workers.
Members of Teamsters Local 31, which represents the onboard attendants for the tourist train, voted 80 per cent in favour of accepting an agreement with the company over the weekend.
So far, there's no word as to what's contained in the three-year deal. Some media have reported it includes a 10 per cent wage rollback and a requirement to share gratuities with managers.
A spokesman for the Rocky Mountaineer, Ian Robertson, refused to comment on that, describing the deal in a press statement as "fair" and "appropriate for the current economic climate."
No one from the union returned calls regarding the deal. The 103 unionized attendants - who were locked out following a strike vote 14 months ago - were presented with the deal and voted on it over the weekend.
They were given until the end of Monday to decide if they want their jobs back. Those who do could well be sharing duties with some of the replacement workers who've kept the rail company running over the past year. Those workers will now be required to join the union. Unionized workers who don't return will get a severance package.
The protracted labour dispute - which saw pickets up at the company's North Vancouver station as well as downtown - was particularly bitter because of the railtour company's use of the replacement workers during the lockout. While that practice is usually illegal in British Columbia, the company is federally regulated, and under those regulations, replacement workers are allowed. The bitterness escalated to the point that the union and railtour company clashed in court over an injunction preventing picketers from "harassing" passengers and replacement workers.
In court, company representatives described picketers yelling "scabs" at startled passengers and following replacement workers. Picketers, meanwhile, said the replacements had given them the finger and had made gestures such as "kissing their hands and slapping their buttocks," according to court documents.
Earlier this summer, a B.C. Supreme Court Justice ordered the union to pay $25,000 for disobeying the court injunction.
On Tuesday, Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, described tactics used by the company as union busting. "This company aggressively used scabs to attack the union," he said. "It's an anti-union, anti-worker attack."
"By not allowing scabs you force realism at the bargaining table," he said. "When a party can bring in scabs it changes the whole dynamic of a labour dispute. That's why it's illegal in B.C. to do it."
Sinclair criticized John Furlong, chairman of the Rocky Mountaineer's board of directors, for using the replacement workers. He also criticized successive federal governments for voting down attempts to change federal labour laws.
Speaking for the company, Robertson described the labour dispute as "very challenging for both sides," adding, "We prefer to put the past behind us and move forward." He said workers who go back to their jobs can expect a few weeks of retraining before getting back on board. The railtour company wraps up its summer season in a month, with final departures scheduled for the beginning of October.
David Van Hove, an attendant who has worked for the Rocky Mountaineer for 12 years and has been on the picket line for the last year, said prior to the vote this weekend, the lockout has been incredibly hard. The rail company had hired security guards to keep picketers away and had even had bagpipers play to drown them out, he said. "You have no idea," he said. "None of us want to be on the picket line any longer."
Van Hove said union members have been putting in about 25 hours on the picket lines each week and have been receiving strike pay, but adds, "It's barely enough to keep your head above water." Most of the locked-out employees have had to take other part-time jobs to survive, he said.