CPKC drags feet on attendance and sick leave negotiations

May 3, 2024

CPKC, formed through the merger of the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads, is one of only two Class I railroads in the United States that have not negotiated with SMART-TD members for paid sick time. As with other railroads, they have adopted a strict policy to punish absenteeism. As a result, managers can dish out discipline and dismissal even if an employee must take UNPAID time off to recover from a high fever or while contagious.

Nobody wins when sick workers are punished for being sick

The new CPKC policy went into effect on December 1, 2023. They followed in the footsteps of Union Pacific and BNSF, who also want extreme employee availability. All these policies are designed to allow lower headcounts while increasing schedule flexibility for the managers. But, by pushing these policies too far, the railroads wear out their crews. The unions cannot change the policies directly, but we can fight their enforcement.

“The carrier is simply dragging its feet. We’ve had nearly two years for CPKC to come to the table after the uproar over time off during the last national negotiations,” General Chairperson Sam Habjan of GCA-457 (former Kansas City Southern lines). “They were super quick to get their merger done, but when it comes to taking care of the people doing the work, it’s been a slog.”

SMART-TD can reverse bad management decisions

The fact that these policies are both absurd and inhumane explains our high win rate when cases are brought to a hearing. SMART-TD’s success at overturning bad management choices may also explain why the railroads dish out steeper punishments if a railroader exercises their right to a hearing and loses. By raising the stakes, the railroads try to prevent their bad choices from being challenged. We win anyway — SMART-TD protects our members.

How SMART-TD members can get help

If any SMART-TD member is being unfairly targeted by their boss, they should talk to their local chairperson ASAP. The local chairperson can estimate if a hearing will be successful and can pull in the General Committee or additional union support if the situation demands it. SMART-TD wants to fix these policies, which starts with each railroader reporting their manager’s misdeeds. The more evidence we have and the more precedent we use and establish, the easier these cases become.

“The best way to combat these ‘policies’ is to challenge them,” Habjan said. “The union exists expressly to counter this nonsense. Talk to your local chairpersons and engage with your union. They’re trying to put fear in the workers when they know that SMART-TD officers are ready to stand up for our people. They’re afraid of the power of what we can do.”

SMART-TD is negotiating improved sick-day and time-off policies, one carrier and one property at a time, coast to coast. As the largest freight rail union in the United States, we are making progress. The time has come to call CPKC to the table. Respecting our members is in CPKC’s best interest.

Canadian carriers need to do better for their U.S. crews

It’s simple. No one should be forced to work while they are sick. Everyone should have the ability to take a day or two each week to attend to personal business. Rested and alert railroaders do a better job than fatigued ones. Canadian crews are protected by governmentally mandated time-off policies. Americans who work for Canadian companies don’t inherit those protections, which makes them vulnerable.

We show up to do a tough job and we are proud to do it well. But everyone has a physical limit. If we collapse from overwork, CPKC suffers. Experienced workers are safer and more efficient in the field than new hires, even if the fresh faces have learned all the rules.

This is a crisis in the making. CPKC has copied their peers’ punishing unplanned time-off policies. Without negotiating a just attendance and sick leave policy to balance it, CPKC will suffer. So will their customers. Once lost, rebuilding their ability will take years, even after refreshing their headcount.

CPKC’s policy

The CPKC policy includes the following language: “CPKC T&E and Yardmaster employees who book off sick or unpaid personal leave on two or more available workdays in the calendar month will be subject to attendance review for that month. Disciplinary action may result.”

Second OffenceThird OffenceFourth
Fifth Offence
Employee option:
Admit culpability and waive a formal investigation*
• Formal Reprimand


Elect a formal investigation and if found culpable may be assessed
10 demerits
Employee option:
Admit culpability and waive a formal investigation*
• 10 demerits


Elect a formal investigation and if found culpable may be assessed
15 demerits
Employee option:
Admit culpability and waive a formal investigation*
• 15 demerits


Elect a formal
investigation and if found culpable may be assessed
20 demerits
30 demerits, up to and including dismissal
At company
discretion, up to a 30-calendar day suspension or 30 demerits deferred in lieu of dismissal for accumulation of
consider continued employment/last chance agreement (Consult with LR)
Any combination thereof, up to and including dismissal
* Admission of Responsibility/ Waiver as provided for in the employee’s Collective Agreement

When a railroad takes a broken-down old yard engine, paints it, reupholsters the interior and, of course, updates it with inward-facing cameras, they tell us it has been refurbished. They act like the yard crews should thank them for a massive improvement!

But that new paint job is no help at all when we’re trying to pull an ore train up a 3% grade. It’s the same POS, just a little shinier.

When the Canadian Pacific absorbed Kansas City Southern, (former) KCS crews hoped that life MIGHT be about to get a little better.

It turns out the “refurb” attendance policy is still that same garbage SD-40 they always knew not to trust.

CPKC: meet with us so we can give this thing the overhaul it deserves.