NEW WESTMINSTER—Speakers at a public rally held on Saturday (February 14) in support of CUPE 7000 members called on Southern Railway to end the six-week lock-out—a dispute which, apart from hurting the workers most affected, has cost the company millions of dollars, caused numerous problems for its customers, and highlighted ongoing concerns about safety.
The noon-hour rally, held outside a Southern Railway service yard on a residential street near New Westminster Quay, drew a large crowd. Among those in attendance was COPE 378 President David Black, eight of whose members are out of work while they respect the CUPE picket lines. CUPE 7000 President and rally host Bill Magri thanked COPE, the Longshoremen, the Teamsters, and other unions that have supported his members since the lockout began on January 5.
Magri described some of the events leading up to the lockout—including the fact it was the union, and not the company, that applied for mediation. Then he turned the microphone over to CUPE 4078 President Tanya Paterson, who led the crowd through a powerful, a cappella rendition of “Solidarity Forever.”
CUPE BC General Vice-President Trevor Davies addressed fatigue as a health and safety concern in the rail industry. Thanks to issues like forced overtime and multiple consecutive shifts, he said, extreme fatigue has become rampant among rail crews across Canada.
“Southern Rail needs to call up Bill and CUPE Local 7000,” said Davies. “They need to get back to the table and bargain with the priority being this: the safety of the workers, the safety of our community, needs to be priority Number One because that’s what matters at the end of the day.”
New Westminster NDP MLA Judy Darcy agreed, adding that Southern Railway’s anti-union stance is not going down well in New Westminster.
“This is a progressive city that respects labour rights, and the first city in Canada to establish a living wage policy. So we expect better than how Southern Railway has been treating its workers.”
Vancouver Hastings MLA and NDP Labour Critic Shane Simpson pledged to write this week to the Minister of Transportation.
“I will be calling on the minister to send out all the necessary inspection people to this railway to inspect and to report out on the safety of this operation,” he said.
“We’re going to demand that the Minister of Transportation satisfy that everything is being done to the levels and standards that they were before [the lockout], and if they’re not being done then the government needs to intervene. They need to intervene with the company and, if necessary, shut down the operation.”
CUPE BC President Mark Hancock ended the rally with a passionate critique of U.S. billionaire Dennis Washington. Hancock chided the Southern Railway owner for upholding a business model that treats workers badly and has no qualms about wasting millions of dollars on lawyers and fines during a lockout.
“Make no mistake,” said Hancock, “the 85,000 members of CUPE BC, the 630,000 of CUPE National, and the hundreds of thousands of members of the labour movement in British Columbia will be here to support our members until they get a fair collective agreement.”
After the rally, attendees signed a poster-sized Valentine’s card—to be delivered by CUPE 7000—urging Southern Railway President and CEO Frank Butzelaar to end the lockout and return to the bargaining table.
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