IBEW Members in Canada employed by Canadian Pacific Railway ratified a new five-year contract earlier this year.
Flickr/Creative Commons photo by Michael Berry.

IBEW members employed by Canadian Pacific Railway have been under plenty of stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing they no longer have to worry about, however, is a new contract.

The members, who are part of System Council 11, ratified a 5-year deal in late January. A tentative agreement was reached just before Christmas following 3½ months of virtual bargaining and in-person sessions in Calgary, the site of Canadian Pacific’s headquarters, that followed social distancing protocols.

“The pandemic made it very challenging,” System Council 11 Senior General Chairman Steve Martin said. “The company used the pandemic as a tactical advantage due in part to the current economic stress. With the support of our membership, we were able to secure improvements on several items with little or no concessions from the previous collective bargaining agreement.”

System Council 11 held a strike-authorization vote in November and early December, in which 98% voted to authorize a strike if necessary.

But even with the financial challenges brought on by COVID-19, Martin is pleased the new contract provides for wage increases and improvements in benefits and work rules.

In return, the IBEW’s only real concession was to Canadian Pacific’s request for the 5-year deal instead of the previous 3-year deal. The company wanted the certainty of a longer-term contract.

But in a sense, that longer contract wasn’t a bad thing. Canadian Pacific management was so adamant about it that it was willing to work with the IBEW on other issues, Martin said.

“In the end, the company put enough on the table that we were able to take it to our membership,” he said.

The IBEW has long had a relationship with Canadian Pacific, which was founded in 1881 and became a publicly-traded corporation in 2001. It owns about 20,000 miles of track in six provinces and is now primarily a freight railway.

Approximately 365 Canadian members are employed by Canadian Pacific, working in the Signals and Communications Department. The company has expanded into the United States in recent years but this agreement covers only Canadian members. Those members are considered essential employees and have worked throughout the pandemic, making sure vitally important supplies and other goods are delivered.

First District International Vice President Thomas Reid said the agreement was proof that members’ solidarity can lead to improved contracts, even during difficult economic times.

“Our negotiators went to the bargaining table with the strong support of members all across Canada and the company recognized that,” Reid said. “In the end, after months of sometimes tense negotiations, Canadian Pacific was willing to improve conditions for essential workers during this pandemic.

“Our railroad members throughout Canada, at Canadian Pacific and other companies, have done incredible work to keep our country moving and functioning during a difficult time. I salute them and our negotiating team that led to this contract. It’s a win for everyone.”

The System Council represents Canadian Pacific employees at eight railroad locals across the country. Other members of the bargaining team were System 11 General chairman Lee Hooper, East Regional representative Bill Duncan, West Regional representative Brad Kauk and Kamloops, British Columbia, Local 2042 Business Manager Randy Roberts.

“This tentative collective agreement is the result of hard work and good faith negotiating between the IBEW and CP,” company president and CEO Keith Creel said in a statement when the agreement was announced, before the vote. “We look forward to its ratification and to five years of continued grown and opportunity with these employees.”