PRINCE GEORGE, B.C.– In a move that came as surprise to employees, Canadian Freightways shut down four of its British Columbia terminals.
Operations were halted at the company’s Prince George, Smithers, Terrace and Prince Rupert locations on January 17. Prince Rupert had been operated by an independent owner/operator on behalf of Canadian Freightways.
According to Heather Lee, vice-president, combined units for the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE) Local 378, who had members employed at the Prince George terminal, the closures came swiftly.
“On Friday afternoon the union business rep that provides services to members at that company got a call from HR and was told that a notice of closure was coming. Within half an hour, they were served with the notice of closure for Prince George,” she said.
She added that receiving the closure notice left her “quite disappointed. Companies operate on long-term business plans. I don’t think they made a decision in half-an-hour to close down.”
According to Ken Enns, senior vice-president at Canadian Freightways, there was one key reason behind the decision to close the terminals. He told Truck News that it was “strictly a financial decision to change the operating structure.”
Enns added that Canadian Freightways’ customers in those areas would continue to receive service due to a new business partnership with Richmond, B.C.-based Bandstra Transportation Systems Ltd.
“[There will be] no changes in the service matrix. In fact, this will improve the service provide overnight service to Smithers ex Edmonton and Vancouver.”
In total, 30 employees were affected by the closure. The vast majority worked in the Prince George terminal.
According to Enns, at its now-closed locations, Canadian Freightways employed workers who were part of two unions, COPE and the Teamsters and “the company opted to pay working notice to the employees as per the collective agreement.”
He added that the company had a four-year agreement in place with the Teamsters (originally signed in 2013), and was entering contract negotiations with COPE.
Lee explained that transportation workers fall under the auspices of federal labour laws and not the province’s labour code, and because of that, “provisions for workers are quite minimal.” She said under federal rules, there was no mandate for the company to consult with the unions before ceasing operations.
“We’re doing what we can. We’re having conversations with the members to find out what the impacts are for them and to examine what we can do to help them,” she said.
While Enns couldn’t say whether there were more closures on the table, he did say “we will continue to review the market and our operating structure to ensure we remain competitive and profitable.
“We have made some positive changes to address our operating costs and improve service. Canadian Freightways will continue to aggressively sell our North American coverage and technological advancements to our customers.”
One of the major changes at the company happened at the executive level. Former president Ralph Wettstein retired in December 2013. Enns is currently in charge of operations.