A White Pass & Yukon Route train pulls into Carcross, Yukon, on July 16. (Matthew Bossons/Yukon News)

A White Pass & Yukon Route train pulls into Carcross, Yukon, on July 16. (Matthew Bossons/Yukon News)

White Pass train and engine workers ink new contract, avoid strike

Full steam ahead for White Pass & Yukon Route workers following acceptance of new labour agreement

Train and engine workers with White Pass & Yukon Route (WPYR) railroad, all members of the SMART Transportation Division union’s Local 1626 chapter, voted to approve an agreement with their employer on July 26 following lengthy negotiations.

Jason Guiler, a WPYR worker and the general chairman of the union’s local chapter, was able to share a few details of the new agreement for the company’s conductors, engineers and brake operators. In the final deal, he said, the company recognized the past six years that the union’s members did not have a new contract. Additionally, no job cuts were announced.

“We were able to protect the brakeman position. So we did not see any language that would have introduced the removal of that position, which was obviously one of the most important parts of the initial discussion and proposal from the company,” Guiler said.

“One of our most important parts to this entire process was protecting the jobs that we do have in place, and we’re proud to say that we were able to successfully do that.”

The union also ensured that the agreement included no changes to work rules that would eliminate job functions or duties.

Negotiations between the two parties have dragged on for years. The last collective bargaining agreement inked between the train and engine workers and WPYR was in 2014.

The agreement expired in 2017, at which point talks between the union and the company about a new contract should have begun. However, because WPYR was for sale then, ownership asked the union to pause negotiations until after the purchase concluded.

“We received notice in either December or November of 2017 to bargain. The company was in a transition towards new ownership, so we didn’t meet to bargain until September of 2018,” WPYR’s executive director of human resources and strategic planning, Tyler Rose, told the News.

“And then we bargained directly until February of 2023 when entering the federal mediation [process], and we went through the mediation process, and now we’re here. So yeah, it was it was a long process.”

According to Rose, the drawn-out negotiations were due to “a variety of reasons on both sides” as well as disruptions caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which was notoriously damaging to the tourism industry.

In a previous conversation with the News, Guiler noted several sticking points between the two sides, including job cuts, employees’ health benefits and salaries. As negotiations dragged on, the possibility of a strike was openly discussed by union representatives, with Guiler noting earlier this month that WPYR’s conductors, engineers and brake operators could walk off the job as early as mid-August.

The new agreement takes effect immediately and will be in place until 2027.

The acceptance of the new arrangement between WPYR and its train operators falls ahead of a major milestone for the company, which will celebrate its 125th anniversary on July 29.

“I think that our employees are happy, and it’s a good thing that we were able to finally find common ground. And this leads into our 125th-anniversary celebration on Saturday, which is going to be great,” Rose said.

Guiler noted that WPYR has invited the general public to celebrate the anniversary this weekend and that he and many of his colleagues will attend.

“I think, especially at this time, with the relief of this [contract] being finalized, it gives us all an opportunity to be able to truly celebrate together. The 125th anniversary is an incredible milestone to celebrate together, and I am excited to be able to do that,” said Guiler.

Contact Matthew Bossons at matthew.bossons@yukon-news.com