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Hotel ousts Rocky Mountaineer replacement workers

A labour dispute between the luxury Rocky Mountaineer train line and its Teamster employees took a dramatic new turn earlier today, as a training session for scab workers hired to replace locked out Teamster employees was asked to leave a rented space at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. The "replacement workers," some recruited by ads on Craigslist, were being trained to act as on-board attendants in the place of Teamster Local 31 members, locked out by Rocky Mountaineer management since June of last year.

A new travel season for the train line opens on April 24, and a union spokesman told The Tyee today's victory was a sign of things to come: "We're going to ramp things up. We haven’t gone away," says Teamster Local 31 officer Rod Blackburn.

According to Blackburn, Local 31's secretary treasurer, his union learned the Rocky Mountaineer training session was scheduled to be held at the Hotel Vancouver today and responded by putting up a picket line outside the hotel at approximately 7:30 a.m. Blackburn told The Tyee that pickets were soon contacted by concerned hotel employees who belong to the Canadian Autoworkers (CAW).

The CAW union members in turn spoke to Hotel Vancouver General Manager Andre' Zotoff, telling him that as union members they objected to scabs being trained at the hotel and that they would not be willing to cross the Teamster picket line. Before noon, the Rocky Mountaineer replacement workers and their management trainers had been asked to leave the hotel by Fairmont managers.

Terry Tanasiuk, president of CAW local 4275 at the Hotel Vancouver, told The Tyee that plans to host a training session for "replacement workers" at the hotel had been kept secret from his members.

"Once our local workplace leadership knew about it, we asked for a meeting with our management," Tanasiuk says. "We have attended rallies to support the locked out Rocky Mountaineer workers and we know they are hospitality workers just like us. We need to stick together."

Tanasiuk said he had emphasized to Hotel Vancouver management that training scabs at the hotel was not acceptable. The CAW collective agreement, he reminded management, permits workers to refuse to cross a legal picket line.

"And until we learn differently, we assume any picket line is legal," he says.

Neither Rocky Mountaineer management nor Zotoff made themselves available for comment in response to Tyee requests.

"The CAW consulted with us and then they spoke with hotel management," Blackburn says. "It was sure nice to see this support. The Teamsters and the CAW haven't always seen things eye to eye, but this was just great."

Rocky Mountaineer members previously belonged to the CAW. The workers chose to change unions in January 2011.

In February, the Rocky Mountaineer dispute came to public attention when unions representing film industry condemned a decision by Oscars festivity organizers to accept tickets for trips on the line for inclusion in "loot bags" made available to Oscars participants.

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy news for The Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at tos@infinet.net.

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