Job action could be in the cards for trainmen working for White Pass & Yukon Route Railway (WPYR) after contact negotiations with their employer have allegedly remained stalled for the past six years.
The company’s conductors, engineers and brakemen — sometimes referred to as ‘trainmen’ — are members of SMART-TD union’s Local 1626 chapter. They are currently in the middle of an authorization-to-strike vote — a 72-hour window for affected union members to consider whether or not to vote to strike.
According to Jason Guiler, a trainman with WPYR and the general chairman of the union’s local chapter, compensation packages for conductors, engineers and brakemen are the same today as they were more than half a decade ago — a significant issue in a time of rising inflation.
“[Compensation] is the exact same today as it was six years ago. And the contract that we’re speaking of was actually a collective bargaining agreement that was negotiated and initiated in 2014,” Guiler says.
“So not only have we not realized any increases in the last six years, in reality, it’s actually been nine years since we’ve had any kind of negotiations.”
Guiler tells the News that the agreement signed in 2014 was set to expire in 2017, at which point the union attempted to begin negotiations on a new deal with the company. At that time, the company was for sale, and ownership asked the union to pause talks “in good faith” until after the sale was finalized.
In 2018, the purchase was completed, with WPYR being transferred from a TWC Enterprises to a group that includes Ketchikan-based Survey Point Holdings and Florida-based cruise operator Carnival Corporation. Since the sale, negotiations between the company and its trainmen have experienced “huddles that were never seen in the past,” according to Guiler.
He adds that, under the Railroad Labour Act in the United States, once a collective bargaining agreement is inked, it remains in place until a new one is renegotiated — hence the union members’ current predicament.
“We’re still working under that same contract. Even though it was dated from 2014 through 2017, it stays in place.”
WPYR’s alleged unwillingness to bargain with its trainmen is particularly egregious, according to Guiler, because in 2019, the company enjoyed a record-breaking season, carrying more than half-a-million passengers over the summer.
And while Guiler is cognizant of the challenges tourism operators faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, he quickly points out that the new owners invested in new locomotives, track upgrades and bridge replacements in 2020. At the same time, he claims, “many employees were laid off or furloughed, including the trainmen.”
Following a reasonably successful summer tourist season in 2022, trainmen returned to the bargaining table with their employer but were unable to come to an agreement. In March 2023, two months after Guiler took over as the union chapter’s general chairman, the union filed for mediation services through the National Mediation Board in the U.S.
Since starting mediation, union reps have met with their assigned mediator “on several occasions,” says Guiler.
“It’s one thing to technically be asking for a raise. It’s another to just be looking to match the current CPI and work to move forward so that we don’t lose that buying power.”
If mediation fails and the parties are released from the process, they enter a cooling-off period.
“[After] a cooling-off period, we can then move forward with other measures, including the authorization for a strike vote, [which] we held on Monday evening [and] is now currently in effect and ongoing for the next, well, 72-hour window,” Guiler told the News on June 28.
When asked why an agreement has been so hard to reach, Guiler says, “I wish I knew. I find it very interesting that the company has been more than willing to invest in their infrastructure, their equipment and their rail upgrades. Yet they have not been willing to demonstrate investment in their employees, the individuals who make it all happen.”
A statement provided by WPYR’s executive director of human resources and strategic planning, Tyler Rose, notes that the company “is committed to working towards the resolution of these negotiations in the interests of all involved. However, we do not believe it is appropriate to further comment in the media on the mediation process at this time.”
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