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'We're taking a stand' say striking Sudbury CN workers

Signals and communication workers across Canada seeking fair wages from rail giant

CN Rail signals and communications workers across Canada continued their strike action on June 23, hoping to attract attention to the wages they say are insufficient, especially in light of their status as essential workers during the pandemic. 

The striking workers, who maintain train crossings, signals and inspection equipment for CN Rail are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), with about 750 members nationally. The union and CN Rail have been in negotiations since October 2021.

Since the strike action began on Saturday, rotating picket lines have occurred around Greater Sudbury each day, and Thursday saw a dozen of the union’s 72 Sudbury members holding signs beside the rail crossing on Barry Downe Road in New Sudbury, and feeling the support from the din of cars honking in approval. 

Sudbury Local 2052's representative, Jamie Taylor, told the strike action is based on the need for fair wages in the face of rising inflation. 

“We're on strike for a decent wage increase that CN Rail doesn't want to give us,” said Taylor. “They make billions of dollars a year, and we’re asking for what’s fair.” 

Taylor said the significant increases for the cost of items like food and gas have made it so that the wages offered are insufficient. That, and Taylor said he believes CN Rail is bargaining in bad faith. 

In a letter sent to employees, upon notice of the strike, CN Rail offered a “10 per cent improvement to wages over three years." 

Taylor said that is an unclear statement, and that it may have misled some into thinking that is what was given. 

“When really that was disingenuous," he said.

"They weren't offering us a 10 per cent wage increase over three years; they were offering us an eight per cent wage increase over three years, and a two per cent signing bonus.”

Taylor said the difference between those two is much more than meets the eye.

“That two per cent signing bonus will work out to about $2,000, if we're lucky,” he said.

“If we get a two per cent wage increase, that compounds over the next 30 years for these guys, and it'll work out to $100,000 over 30 years or more, as opposed to $2,000. Those are the kinds of tactics that CN uses, but we as the IBEW won't stoop to those tactics.” 

Taylor said that signals and communications workers are dedicated professionals who are committed to their work, and often have to be available at short notice, and just about every day. He said that each member is committed to safety, and that he fears for the hazards that could occur under the “skeleton crew” that is currently replacing the striking workers, all 750 of them.  

“There's thousands of these road crossings throughout Canada that we maintain — that's all our responsibility,” said Taylor.

“And when we're out on strike, they're trying to maintain all that equipment, across Canada, with a skeleton crew of supervisors that really don't have a clue what they're doing. They haven't been in the field; for some of them, they haven't touched this stuff and they don't know what they're doing.”

Taylor said his members are frustrated that they are not seen as imperative to operation, especially as they were deemed essential workers during the pandemic. “We take public safety seriously, we take our job seriously, (and) we want to keep these crossings safe for the public."

In a press release, CN Rail said they have negotiated with the union in good faith and will continue to do so. The company states it has also offered to resolve the remaining differences through binding arbitration.

“While the company is disappointed with the current situation, CN remains committed to finding a resolution and it continues to encourage the IBEW to end its strike through an agreement or through binding arbitration,” reads the release.  

But Taylor said that just won’t cut it, especially as he feels binding arbitration often favours the company, not the union.

“CN is really playing hardball with us,” he said. “But we've had enough. I've been here 22 years. This is the first time I've ever been on strike. But enough is enough. We've put up with CN’s crap for too long, and we're taking a stand.”