The Electrical Worker online
January 2013

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IBEW, Canadian Pacific Reach Five-Year Agreement

It is the railroad that built Canada.

In 1871 — only four years after Canada's founding — Prime Minister John Macdonald looked to expand his new nation westward. He hoped to convince British Columbia — still a British colonial possession — to join the confederation. To seal the deal, he promised B.C. lawmakers a transcontinental rail link connecting Quebec and the Pacific Ocean.

It worked. The legislature voted to become Canada's sixth province and 16 years later, the first Canadian Pacific train arrived in Vancouver — unifying the nation from coast to coast.

Despite competition from airlines and highway traffic, Canadian Pacific continues to play a vital role in the nation's resource-rich economy, hauling millions of tons of coal, grain and other goods to Pacific ports for sale on the world market.

More than 450 IBEW members — from Montreal to Vancouver — play a vital role in keeping the 22,500-kilometer rail network running safely. Canadian Pacific signal and communication employees install and maintain the system's railway signals and track monitoring equipment, which keeps the lines accident free and the trains on time. Automatic signals help control the speed and movement of the trains, preventing collisions and alerting highway travelers about oncoming rail traffic.

It can be a tough job, but competitive wages and benefits bargained for by the IBEW helped make it a good one. And a new tentative five-year agreement reached last fall between the union and Canadian Pacific will continue to keep signalmen and communication workers in the ranks of the middle class.

"It's a strong contract that ensures job stability and decent wages for our members," says IBEW Senior Chairman Brian Strong. He oversees System Council 11, representing 19 railroad locals across Canada.

Canadian Pacific runs 24-7, meaning signal and communication workers have to be ready at a moment's notice if problems arise — regardless of cold, rain or snow. Not to mention the danger of working on the rails. "It's always a risk working around rail lines," Strong says.

Workers are assigned to one of four districts, divided by geography. Some districts can take upwards of 20 hours to cross by car, says Strong, making long drives an occasional, but necessary, part of the job. "We are an integral part of the rail system," Strong says. "Without us, freight can't move efficiently or safely."

In December, members voted on the contract after the Electrical Worker went to press.

Employees gained a yearly 3-percent raise over the life of the agreement, in addition to reforms to the company's pension plan that will keep it solvent for current and future retirees, while maintaining existing benefit levels.

Railway signal and communication unions date back to the emergence of signaling technology in the late 19th century. Canadian Pacific employees were originally part of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen before forming their own exclusively Canadian union in the 1980s.

But less than a decade later, members of the Canadian Signal and Communications Union — attracted by the strong wages and benefits enjoyed by IBEW rail members throughout North America — joined the Brotherhood, becoming System Council 11.

In addition to Canadian Pacific, the council also represents workers at Canadian National, Ontario Northland, Rail Link Canada, X-Rail and Toronto Terminal Railway.

The IBEW began negotiations with Canadian National, the country's largest freight rail company, last month. The council represents 720 Canadian National employees. Strong says he hopes the successful agreement reached at Canadian Pacific will be the model for negotiations with its larger competitor.

"Freight rail is increasing in importance to the Canadian economy, and the First District will continue to set the bar for decent working conditions and wages in the industry," says First District Vice President Phil Flemming.


For more than 100 years, union signal and communication workers have kept the Canada Pacific railway running safely and on time.