CP Rail ownership fight must not impact public safety during treacherous winter months, largest rail union urges TEAMSTERS CALL ON OTTAWA TO STEP UP TRACK AND EQUIPMENT INSPECTIONS AS PROXY BATTLE HEATS UP TO OUST ENTIRE BOARD OF DIRECTORS AND SENIOR MANAGEMENT TEAM
OTTAWA, Jan. 10, 2012 /CNW/ – With millions of Canadians living within kilometres of CP Rail’s main tracks and a preoccupied CP management team admitting its winter contingency plans fell short last winter, Teamsters Canada is calling on Transport Canada to be more vigilant than ever with safety inspections as the board of directors engage in a nasty proxy battle for control of the company.
“Running a railroad is serious business, especially in the harsh winter months,” says William Brehl, president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, Maintenance of Way Employees Division, and a member of Transport Canada’s Advisory Council on Railway Safety. “Mistakes not only cause loss of revenue, they can also cost loss of life and destruction of property.
CP’s upper management has already admitted their contingency plans fell short in 2011 and that was before they were distracted by shareholders shining a light on their inadequacies. Let’s hope that their announcements of being better prepared this year are not just a shell game to appease investors.”
Of the historical Canadian railway in the midst of turmoil at the top, he adds: “Even though all CP employees have a huge stake in the future of CP, we are refraining from taking sides in the current squabbling between CP’s board of directors and its shareholders, namely activist investor Pershing Square which has accumulated 14.2 per cent of the shares and launched the proxy battle. We are praying that CP’s board and upper management concentrate on keeping the trains on the track instead of worrying about their severance packages.” At the core of Pershing’s proxy battle is CP’s operating ratio (or operating expenses as a percentage of revenue) which is the worst of the Big Six railways in North America. In presentations to the CP board and publicly released letters, Pershing believes it can make CP more efficient. “The double whammy of that is that CP Rail also had one of the worst personal injury safety records last year, as well as a history of dangerous commodity derailments causing evacuations and death,” Mr. Brehl says. “This could be linked to CP’s previous attempts at lowering their operating ratio and if so, the pressure being put on them now could create a very dangerous environment.”
“As a person committed to the labour movement, I certainly don’t see eye-to-eye with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government. But as a railroader, I must acknowledge that his government has tried to right some of the wrongs of previous governments when it comes to lax safety regulations that have put Canadians’ safety at risk. We urge the government and Transport Canada to be more vigilant than ever over the next months to ensure CP Rail is running the railway in a safe manner and not cutting corners in the name of shareholder value and efficiency,” Mr. Brehl says.
Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Maintenance of Way Employees Division (TCRC-MWED), a division of Teamsters Canada, represents more than 4,000 maintenance of way workers at CP Rail and almost two dozen short line railroads. Its members are involved in inspecting, monitoring and repairing the tracks, bridges and structures on the network. TCRC-MWED’s mission is to make sure that the railway is safe, in spite of any economic, managerial or other obstacles.
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