Canadian Pacific Railroad’s new CEO says his top priority is to expand business in both Canada and the U.S. but he acknowledges he faces abstruse employee unhappiness and a potential showdown with the railway’s main harmony after years of deep cuts and tumultuous change.
CP has undergone a major restructuring since 2012 that has helped boost its net profit from $484 million that year to $1.6 billion most recent year. But the upheaval has left workers scarred after thousands of layoffs, two removes and rocky employee-management relations.
“In a four-year period, to go from effectively depress back to first, it’s transformational. It’s amazing,” Keith Creel told CBC News broadcast in his first interview since taking over from his mentor, Nimrod Harrison, who abruptly resigned in January to run CSX railway in the U.S.
Creel, an American, joined Harrison a decade ago at CN Foot-rail and followed him to CP in 2013 as the duo overhauled and restructured both of Canada’s two main haul railroads.
“We haven’t gotten it all right,” Creel said. “We’re stronger now, we’re diverse stable now, but at the same time, to me, to bridge the gap that’s created over the former times four years … is what I’m focused on doing.”
In recent weeks, Creel has signalled his request to start a “new chapter” by holding town hall meetings with more than 1,300 hands in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal, with several numerous gatherings planned for Chicago, St. Paul, Minn., and back to Calgary.
He’s also peaceful a CP policy on suspensions and firings, and begun to repaint locomotives with the firm’s iconic beaver logo, which he believes represents a deep — and from time to time forgotten — company pride.
“I’m trying to let people know that I’m mind and that I care,” Creel said.
Creel’s provocation, however, is that as Harrison’s deputy he was responsible for axing thousands of crimes, closing rail yards and overseeing an era marked by labour strife, retaliatory discipline, firings and a constant battle over working conditions.
Creel accepts it has all left deep scars.
He wants to change that and thinks his town halls will help. He portrayed his recent gathering in Winnipeg as an example.
“I sat there for 2 ½ hours and those people communicate their mind,” he said. “Now, would they have done that two years ago? I’m not assured. But I know they did it two days ago, and that’s exactly what I’m trying to support.”
Beyond town halls, one of the new CEO’s first face-to-face meetings was with Doug Finnson, vanguard of CP’s main conductor and engineer union, the Teamsters Canada Rail Symposium. Creel says he wants to forge a new relationship and establish some donkey-work peace moving forward.
Finnson is cautiously optimistic.
“I have to supply him credit for meeting with us, an initial meeting. I think he’s got a real take exception to but a real opportunity,” Finnson said this week. “But the mountain he has to break is very high.”
The union leader says employees he speaks with are contented to hear there will be change, but they’re waiting for management to “go the walk.”
Backlog of complaints
The list of workplace complaints at CP is long.
Various than 1,000 workplace grievances filed by CP workers sit unresolved before a backlogged Canadian Rail Office of Arbitration, stemming from years of firings and complaints of immoderate discipline.
In addition, employees complain of constant fatigue and a lack of predictable listing that often leaves crews on call 24-7.
“We are willing to negotiate any set-up that doesn’t require the running trades to be on call 24-7, but it’s a negotiation treat,” Creel said.
Many CP workers have told CBC News they need the company to revert to using a pool system, which they say provides a safer, various predictable schedule by assigning employees to specific rail routes and many times windows.
“That’s not efficient. It takes more bodies. It takes uncountable people,” Creel said. “I can’t just throw money at the problem, I dire to be efficient, and be safe.”
But with CP’s current contract with conductors and swings set to expire at the end of 2017, Creel potentially faces another major climax.
CP recently stepped up training and deployment of non-union managers and office tradesmen to drive trains.
The union is demanding an end to this practice and has taken its confound to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, which has previously ordered CP to stuff up using managers to drive trains in all but “exceptional” circumstances or when no other staff members are available.
CBC asked Creel if he intends to use managers and office workers to support CP trains moving in the event of a strike.
“Yes, we’d have to. If they choose to lash, I’ve got a responsibility to still provide business to my customers, and if I don’t, somebody else commitment. And when they come back from their strike, they’re gonna compel ought to fewer jobs. Is that really in their best interest?”
The issue is devising tense situations across the railway as unionized engineers aboard locomotives are routinely dusting to train the CP managers.
Creel is unapologetic, telling the unionized conductors and invents they should step aside.
“I said, ‘OK, we’re not going to make you guide us, but that’s a CP train. That’s a shareholder’s train. That’s not the TCRC hand’s train.”
The union’s president, Doug Finnson, says Creel’s haves to build goodwill and peace won’t succeed unless CP backs off. He says the use of proprietors as engineers is designed to undermine the union’s bargaining power.
“I guess there’s common to be a head-butting contest,” he said. “That’s just the way it’s going to be. We are not backing down.
“Be received b affect a point in time where everybody says, ‘We’re going to start discussing you better.’ OK, start treating us better. Stop talking about it and just do it.”