CP Rail shifts focus

By Kyle Bakx, CBC News: After 100 days as the new CEO of Canadian Pacific Railway, Keith Creel is vowing to turn his attention away from mergers and acquisitions and instead focus on improving the strained relationship with employees in attempt to avoid another strike. 

CEO hopes to avoid another strike

“The damage of Hunter Harrison's reign of terror ... it's not going to be easy [to repair].” - Doug Finnson, Teamsters

For several years Creel was groomed as the successor to outgoing CEO Hunter Harrison, who slashed jobs at the Calgary-based company, boosted profit margins, and sought to merge with different American railways.

Creel wants to grow the company, but for now he'll try to do it internally.

"The timing is just not right," he said to reporters after the company's annual general meeting on Wednesday in Calgary. "There's enough organic growth we can drive ourselves. At a certain point in time it will come. It will take the government in Canada and in the United States to support [mergers in the industry]."  

The substantial cut to the workforce under Harrison is one reason for the strained relationship between the railway and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents thousands of CP workers. Creel said the company is "right-sized" with its current staff level.

In a first step to improving the relationship with workers, Creel has eased the company's employee disciplinary program, which he described as too heavy-handed.

"It's more structured," he said of the new changes. "In the past what we typically did was suspend employees, so there is financial loss. This new policy allows our officers the flexibility based on the situation with the infraction, the employee, the willingness to change, they accept responsibility." 

Creel has hosted seven town hall sessions with employees in different cities to hear the concerns of workers. He said management must re-build bridges and connect with the 12,000 employees.

The Teamsters have taken issue with CP using office workers and managers to fill in for unionized staff to drive trains. The union said there are safety concerns because the white collar employees may have insufficient training or won't be as competent if they go months between shifts aboard a train.

CP increased its training of office workers in advance of the 2015 strike to keep cargo moving. 

"It does happen and it will happen," said Creel. "We can't just stop grain trains, potash trains and coal trains because we have temporary shortages of employees." 

Over the last five years, CP has slashed the workforce in Western Canada by 1,500 people, according to the Teamsters. "We've seen some improvements. There seems to be some effort to not attack the workers, but there's a long way to go yet," said Teamsters' Doug Finnson. "The damage of Hunter Harrison's reign of terror put in there, is going to take a lot of work by a lot of people and it's not going to be easy [to repair]."

"My concern right now overall is that we have to do less talking about improving the relationship and do more action."

CP and Teamsters have begun negotiations on a new contract as the current deal expires at the end of 2017.

By Kyle Bakx, CBC News Posted: May 10, 2017 2:47 PM ET Last Updated: May 10, 2017 2:47 PM ET