House of Commons Hansard #129 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

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(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #231

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

11:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and, by unanimous consent, the House went into committee thereon, Denise Savoie in the chair.)

Restoring Rail Service Act
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May 29th, 2012 / 11:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Denise Savoie

I would like to open this session of the committee of the whole on Bill C-39 by making a short statement regarding the proceedings.

Pursuant to an order made earlier this evening, not more than one hour shall be allotted for the consideration of the committee of the whole stage. At the expiry of this period, any proceedings before the committee of the whole shall be interrupted, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the stage under consideration shall be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment. No division shall be deferred.

During the consideration of the bill during committee of the whole the general rules of debate are as follows. Members shall speak for not more than 20 minutes at a time and are not permitted to split their time. While there is no formal period for questions and comments, members may use their time to either speak or ask questions and the responses will be counted in the time allotted to that member.

Finally, members may speak more than once and need not be in their seats to be recognized.

The committee will now proceed with the clause-by-clause study of the bill. Pursuant to Standing Order 75(1), the study of clause 1 is postponed. I am now going to open clause 2 for debate.

The hon. Minister of Labour.

(On Clause 2)

Restoring Rail Service Act
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11:35 p.m.

Halton
Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Minister of Labour

Madam Chair, in an ideal world parties in a dispute would settle their differences quickly and amicably. They would work hard to understand the other's point of view. Moreover, they would appreciate that their disagreement could have far-reaching consequences for people not directly involved. Armed with this knowledge and insight, they would compromise for the mutual benefit of all concerned.

Unfortunately, our world is far from ideal. Despite months of negotiations between the parties, we are now in the midst of a work stoppage at CP Rail. This strike is resonating far beyond the confines of the rail industry as well.

Given its impact on our economy, the government is acting today in the national interest. However, our actions have generated a predictable course of objections. We have been accused of misusing our powers and undermining the right to collective bargain. We have been told that we are moving too quickly. Finally, it has been suggested that the problem is not serious enough to warrant back-to-work legislation. None of the objections hold water.

Since 1950, the Government of Canada has consistently intervened with back-to-work legislation in the railway industry where there is a work stoppage. Our actions today follow the time honoured footsteps of many previous governments, governments that were equally concerned about the impact of shutting down all or part of our rail industry.

I have been asked if I think the government is undermining the collective bargaining process many times by people in the opposition. Quite frankly, the answer is clearly no. I would like to make it perfectly clear that this government remains firmly convinced that collective bargaining is a far better way to resolve disputes than emergency legislation. It is significant that there is nothing in the legislation to prevent the parties from modifying any provision in the collective agreements, either new or changed.

It has been almost five months since the expiration of the collective agreements covering rail traffic controllers and the running trades employees. Like all concerned, the government hoped that CP Rail and the two units could reach agreements and settle their differences, but that has not been the case.

On February 17, I received notices of dispute for CP Rail for both units. Subsequently, on March 2, the labour program appointed the same two federal conciliation officers for both units to ensure consistency for the process. In other words, far from undermining the collective bargaining process, the government has taken steps set out in the Canada Labour Code to help the parties try to resolve the differences. Despite these efforts, the parties remain at an impasse. Therefore, on March 1, they were released from conciliation.

I met with the parties twice in May to offer them extended mediation to help them reach agreements or at least move forward on some of the remaining issues from the bargaining table. At the bargaining table, there were serious issues such as pensions, wages, benefits and working conditions. Regrettably, the assistance was not accepted and on May 23 the strike began.

Unfortunately, the parties did not manage to reach an agreement. As a result, they have caused serious economic problems in our country by initiating work stoppages. As the government, we took the necessary steps and acted for Canadians and our economy.

This government respects the rights of unions to strike and the right of employers to lock out their workers as is set forth in the Canada Labour Code. We would most assuredly prefer not to interfere with affairs of CP Rail, but we are not prepared to stand idly by as a work stoppage cripples vast sectors of our economy.

To the question from the opposition on moving too quickly with the legislation, I think not. I realize that the parties have tried to settle their various disputes, but this government is faced with a situation that requires immediate and decisive intervention.

The parties have had ample time to reach an agreement and they have received help from experts in mediation. At this point, we cannot expect that they will see eye to eye any time soon. We cannot wait any longer, not when our economy hangs in the balance.

The Leader of the Opposition said today that he believed it was not even a question of acting too soon. He would prefer not to act at all but that we encourage both sides to continue negotiating, even during a work stoppage with their talks halted.

Why is that? I submit that is because he does not understand that this work stoppage is a real threat to others outside the rail industry. I hope he does not believe that in our globalized economy, where markets can turn on a single tweet, that freight rail has become a relic because we completely disagree with that.

CP Rail has grown into a vast network of some 22,000 kilometres operating in 13 American states as well as six of our own provinces. For many farmers and miners, freight rail is the mode of choice to get their products to market and CP Rail is the company to which they most frequently turn. In 2010, according to Transport Canada, CP Rail transported 74% of our potash, 57% of our wheat and 53% of our coal. All totalled, the value of freight moved by CP Rail in Canada is nearly $50 billion, each and every year.

In 2009, a report by the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management indicated the important role played by four Canadian bulk shipping industries that used freight rail. Oilseed and grain farming, coal mining, wood products manufacturing and pulp and paper and products manufacturing contribute together more than $81 billion to Canada's GDP. Moreover, they keep one million Canadians at work. In other words, freight rail remains indispensable to our economy.

It is not just important to the 15,000 or more people who work at CP Rail. It is also clearly vital to the farmers, miners and forestry workers who depend upon rail to move their products across the continent and beyond and to all those whose jobs are linked directly or indirectly to the rail industry.

If this work stoppage is prolonged, it will translate into further job losses. With no trains running, the implications of this work stoppage are widespread. In addition to affecting farmers, miners and forestry workers, it is also impacting auto workers. Auto parts are the third largest container import good that comes through Port Metro Vancouver. This work stoppage, this strike, is halting the shipment of these parts to manufacturers in Ontario. Without these parts, assembly lines will slow down or stop and that will result in lost production and layoffs.

Do not forget that through partnerships with other modes of transport like shipping or trucking, the silence on train tracks can vibrate far beyond our own waters and our own borders. CP Rail is a vital link in moving freight to and from Canada's west coast ports, which are such an important part of the Asia–Pacific gateway. This work stoppage is preventing our ability to keep products moving, it undermines Canada's reputation as a reliable place to do business and it is a setback from which it could take years to recover lost businesses and lost investments.

We have two class I railways in our country and it is true that Canadian National does have some capacity to move freight. CN estimates were that it could pick up nearly 10% of CP Rail's grain traffic, but probably less for other sectors. However, the fact remains that about 20% of CP traffic simply does not have direct access to CN's rail network.

We cannot count on CN to pick up the slack during this work stoppage and VIA Rail cannot help fill the void because it is designed to transport passengers, not freight. Most important, we cannot rely upon a speedy conclusion to negotiations that have dragged on without success and finally broke down this weekend. We must act.

First, there is 60 years of parliamentary precedent for a government to introduce back-to-work legislation in a rail industry work stoppage.

Second, the bill does not circumvent the collective bargaining process, especially considering all the support we have given to help these two parties reach a solution.

Third, we are not acting too quickly. The stakes are much too high to wait for the parties to have a change of heart.

Finally, the rail industry is not a self-contained sector that we will simply leave to its own devices. It is an integral part of the economy, it is linked to other modes of transportation and the producers who depend on rail to deliver their goods demand our respect. The work stoppage at CP Rail is having serious repercussions and this government is not prepared to let it continue.

There is no question it is best for parties in a labour conflict to resolve their differences, but the parties in the CP Rail dispute have been trying now for some time without success and there is no reason to think they will be successful in the days ahead.

In this time of global economic uncertainty, Canadians have given our government a strong mandate to protect the national interest. When we look closely at the implications of a strike at CP Rail, we see billions of dollars and more than a million jobs hanging in the balance. Therefore, in the best interests of all Canadians, the government is acting. We are asking for support to pass Bill C-39, which will end the work stoppage and also provide the parties with an interest-based binding arbitration process to help them resolve their conflict without a strike.

It is not an ideal world, yet I still urge hon. members to set aside their differences for the benefit of all Canadians and join with us to give this bill a rapid passage.

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11:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Chair, the first thing I would like to note at this late hour is that this is the 25th time that debate on a bill in this House has been squashed and shut down. This is an affront and an offence to all parliamentarians, and the first thing I want say is shame on the government for yet again trying to shut down debate on a very important matter in the House of Commons here in the Canadian Parliament.

I heard earlier, in the drive-by second reading debate, I might call it, that the minister said the government is only interested in intervening where the public interest is threatened. Let us take a look at what the public interest is really about and what the Conservative government is actually supporting.

CPR is a profitable private corporation. Its net income profit in 2011 was $570 million. In fact, the last four shareholder dividends have been the highest in the last 30 years. What is really interesting, though, is that the CPR board of directors, in a recent shakeup as a result of American-based hedge funds, is now moving in. We all know how much it represents the public interest. I would like to place a wager that this shakeup had only one goal, that being to increase the shareholders' return or profits by seeking to extract the maximum value they could. As is so often the case in these money grabs, someone else had to pay and it is no surprise to learn that in this case, as in many other cases, it is the employees of CPR.

Unfortunately, it is no surprise either that the employer is making a beeline for the hard-earned pensions of these workers. I would like to give a couple of examples of that. This is what some of the demands of CPR will mean for workers in that company.

A 50-year old employee with 30 years employment in CPR will lose $9,000 every year. A 50-year old locomotive engineer with 30 years service who lives and works in British Columbia, who has 5 years left to work before being able to retire will see his pension reduced by $9,000 every year, should CPR be successful in its demands. This worker has invested his entire adult life into this career. He is preparing to retire and has absolutely no alternative to replace the pensionable income that CPR wants to take away from him. This worker has paid a higher contribution than at any other railway company. He has paid for his pension benefit and now the government, through its actions, will advantage the employer in its efforts to extract a significant concession from working Canadians at CPR.

Here is another example. A 40-year old employee with 20 years of employment at CPR will stand to lose $27,000 a year. A 30-year old employee with 10 years of employment at CPR will stand to lose more than $30,000 every year.

Members can begin to see the very real impact of what this employer is trying to do to its workers in taking away their hard-earned pensions.

Sadly, CPR is not alone in its haste and enthusiasm to rob Canadians of their hard-earned pensions. It has a powerful ally in the Conservative government, which is leading the way in destroying income security programs for Canadians. How ironic that only today Parliament debated Bill C-25, the pooled registered pension plans act at third reading, yet another—

Restoring Rail Service Act
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11:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

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11:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

They may clap, but this is an example of another private pension scheme that helps virtually no one but the big financial institutions.

Where is the public interest that is being upheld? Does it lie at the corporate boardroom table and the profit margins of a profitable company like CPR, or does it lie with making sure that there is a level playing field and that the collective bargaining process is given a fair chance to work?

The public interest is also about ensuring safety on our rail lines. I find it astounding that we have a Conservative government that purports to uphold safety and indeed continually seeks to divide our society into the simplistic division of criminals versus victims, yet when it comes to the safety of workers it is willing to use the sledgehammer of back-to-work legislation to uphold corporate interests and not something as basic as the safety issues that these CPR workers are facing.

I would like to reference the government's own Fatigue Management Plans: Requirements and Assessment Guidelines revised in March 2011, which spells out, and I quote:

Transport Canada recognizes that fatigue is one of the most critical safety issues facing the railway industry today. There is no doubt that fatigue has a detrimental impact on human performance and safety. While solutions to fatigue exist, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, which will easily solve all fatigue-related problems. One counter measure alone is not enough, nor is the sole reliance on legislated maximum hours of work.

This is a significant issue for these railway workers who are on strike, this issue of safety and fatigue, and I would argue that it definitely represents a broad public interest in maintaining and strengthening the safety of our rail system. The employees of CPR hold enormous responsibility for the safe transport of goods and people across the vast network of lines across Canada.

Does the minister even know what these basic issues are about? We know from the workplace that employees in freight service are called by phone to work on a two-hour notice. Employees are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are no traditional days off. Until called the employees are often unaware of their destinations or when they will return home, and employees can be away from home for up to 36 hours.

The union proposal is designed to allow employees the opportunity to have two consecutive nights in bed twice a month. That is their proposal, and it is certainly in line with the government's own report guidelines.

Surely this is a fair and significant issue for these workers, yet it and other issues get swallowed up and quashed by the heavy-handed approach of the government. When we see a government in a headlong sprint to legislate back to work not once, not twice, but three times, we can only conclude it has no respect for collective bargaining and the important role unions play in our society. If at every opportunity the Conservatives choose legislation over proper process, if at every opportunity they seek to divide people and to scapegoat unions as we have seen their members do with Bill C-377, we can only conclude, contrary to what the minister says, that they do not represent the public interest. In fact, they despise any—

Restoring Rail Service Act
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11:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Denise Savoie

I am going to interrupt the hon. member for a moment.

There is too much noise in the House. I am asking for a little bit of order and respect while the member completes her intervention.

Restoring Rail Service Act
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11:50 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I would point out there is too much noise on one side of the House. Those members are disrespectful even of debate in the House. In fact, they despise anything public about the public.

I am proud to be here tonight, no matter what the hour, no matter what the circumstances of this gag debate, no matter what the votes, to speak out with my colleagues in the NDP, who are not afraid to uphold the public interest of fair labour practices, safety for workers and their families and safety for Canadians overall.

As the member for Outremont and leader of the official opposition said, “With every piece of back-to-work legislation—and every ideologically driven change to our laws—the Conservatives are chipping away at what Canadians have worked so hard to build”. We are standing up tonight against the bill, clause by clause, line by line, because we believe in something quite fundamental, the basic premise that in a free and democratic society, workers have the right to collective bargaining and the right to dignity and respect.

The Conservatives choose the corporate board rooms and are quite happy to put their feet up on the table with ease and comfort with their corporate buddies. We do not.

The CPR executives are raking in millions at the expense of their employees. The government has tilted the scales heavily in favour of the employer. We choose to keep the scales in a fair balance and to ensure that the rights of workers in Canada are upheld and respected.

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11:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Chair, if there is one thing Canadians can recognize, it is the emergence of a bit of an overall demeanour, a policy development demeanour on the part of the Conservative government. When I say policy development demeanour, I mean when it develops policy its belief is “da meaner, the better”.

In this case, in dealing with organized labour in this country, we have seen that approach, the meaner, the better. When it comes to collective bargaining in this country, our party believes in fair and honest collective bargaining, something I have seen over the course of this debate that separates us from the Conservative Party. What we have seen is no example whatsoever of any kind of belief.

The Conservatives like to talk the talk, but the walk is not there. The actions they have undertaken certainly show no respect for collective bargaining. Canadians do not have to take our word for it; there are enough experts in this country.

I would like to quote David Doorey, from York University's School of Human Resource Management, a lecturer at London School of Economics, speaker at Osgoode Hall—

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11:55 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Denise Savoie

Order. I will interrupt the hon. member again. I would like to ask all members in the House for a little respect while this member is speaking. I am hearing comments from different sides of the House that are very disturbing.

The hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso.

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11:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I appreciate your intervention.

Professor Doorey weighed in on this highly interventionist federal legislation restricting collective bargaining and the right to strike and lockout in this country. Really, he directed his comments more so at the minister:

[The minister] always tells the media that the government wants a voluntary deal reached by all parties themselves. However, most everyone who knows anything about collective bargaining argues that she is in fact discouraging this from happening by promising employers that the government will step in with back to work legislation designed to prioritize the employers' interests.

We have seen that time and time again.

There has been reference made through the course of the debate here today on legislation that a Liberal government put forward in 1995. I would like to set the record straight on this because several Conservatives have made that point here today and, certainly, the circumstances were completely different. In that case, not just CP but CN and VIA Rail were all involved in various stages of work stoppages.

Rolling strikes had started at CP on March 8, CP locked out employees on March 13, CN employees went on strike on March 18, and VIA got pulled in there, making any kind of rail traffic in this country grind to a halt. Rail service ceased to exist in this country.

So, the minister at the time, Lucienne Robillard, did not tip her hand prior to that. She put together back-to-work legislation, for March 21. The Liberals were in a majority government, but she brought that legislation to the Reform Party--the Bloc was the official opposition at the time--and the Reform Party supported it.

The NDP, at the time, only had nine members in the House. It was not an official party. However, she went to the NDP. Bill Blaikie, who is a respected parliamentarian, I think we can agree on that, came forward with amendments and put forward two reasoned amendments that Madam Robillard agreed to.

Now, that was a majority government that knew that in this place, in order to be successful and in order to serve Canadians, there was an opportunity if parties worked together. Again, this is foreign to the current government.

Bill Blaikie and the NDP supported this back-to-work legislation. Negotiations had gone on late Wednesday. Let me just read a couple of quotes. “Blaikie won from Robillard two concessions” and would end all strikes, not just the CN strike, and “the arbitrators appointed to settle all the issues at nine different bargaining tables would be chosen from the judiciary”.

So, there were two reasoned amendments that Mr. Blaikie put forward and they were accepted.

Mr. Blaikie also recognized that the country-wide dispute certainly had an impact on the economy at that time and he offered his support. So, we saw all party support on the back-to-work legislation, with the exception of the Bloc.

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11:55 p.m.

An hon. member

Then what happened?

Restoring Rail Service Act
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11:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Then what happened was the Liberal government balanced the books and recorded surpluses and these guys came in and blew it all. That is what happened. Only after they added $100 billion to the national debt.

My colleague from Vancouver East talked about this being the 25th time these guys have used closure with their legislation. I want to share another statistic. In the last 62 years, back-to-work legislation has been used 37 times. In the last 62 years, back-to-work legislation has come to the chamber 37 times. These guys have brought it forward five times in the last year. I am not sure what the prize is for that, but they should be hanging their heads. They will get their prize from organized labour when the next election comes.

The government's record has been one of intervention and favouritism. Instead of being neutral and fair, the government has been just the opposite. It prepares back-to-work legislation even before a strike is due or a lockout occurs. It appoints inappropriate arbitrators and enacts back-to-work legislation that imposes even worse conditions than the parties themselves had agreed to. We saw that with the Canada Post situation. It came forward with legislation that offered a lower wage increase than Canada Post had already agreed upon. It is amazing.

It uses the Canada Industrial Relations Board as a pawn. It throws everything into the Canada Industrial Relations Board. We have seen the government's interference and interventionist actions in labour relations in the past. It has done nothing but poison the well of relations between companies and employees instead of cooling parties off. It is like consecutive episodes of Hell's Kitchen. With every preparation, it has one temperature over there for cooking, and that is burn and scorch. That is what it has done to relations between management and organized labour in this country. It has scorched relations.

George Smith is former director of labour relations at Air Canada and vice-president of human resources at CP Rail. He has been on the other side of the table, on the management side. He stated:

This has all the appearances of the federal government doing what’s best for the country but really it’s a disaster... If you are negotiating a difficult labour contract, the process is being taken out of your hands and the government will do it for you. The “showdown” element which hurts in the short run but results in a fair settlement is gone.

We would not dare believe that the government would listen to experts. It has not shown any kind of respect at all for the Parliamentary Budget Officer or any of those people. The minister does not even listen to her own officials. I asked her about that in an earlier exchange. On the legislation on the first Air Canada lockout, her officials advised against it. The officials stated:

This is an option to be used only in very extreme circumstances where there is a serious impact on the national economy – in this instance it would appear to be more of an inconvenience to travellers who would have to rely on other modes of transportation.

I questioned the minister about the advice she was getting from her senior officials this time around. Since she ignored the advice in the past, I asked if she was getting similar advice this time and ignoring it as well. Is this a crisis? The Conservatives have been in government six and a half years and had a crisis in the skills gap, a crisis in the fishery, a crisis in the environment. They should have a department of crises because they seem to manufacture crises. That is one thing they are good at: manufacturing crises.

Let us look back at the Canada Post dispute. The government legislated a lower wage rate. It forced an arbitrator to look at the financial considerations of the company and not the workers. That is another example of legislation undertaken by the government which benefits management and corporations as opposed to workers.

The minister was taken to the woodshed over the back-to-work legislation with Canada Post. She received a scathing rebuke from Federal Court Justice Martineau, who ripped the minister for her involvement. The minister wasted no time in sticking her nose into the collective bargaining process in the cases of Canada Post and Air Canada and used the threat of back-to-work legislation that hurt the process. Everyone knew that this would be the case this time as well, and therein lies the problem. The union and the company both knew the minister would not miss an occasion to try to grab the spotlight and introduce back-to-work legislation immediately.

The tabling of the legislation was one thing but the signalling of the tabling of the legislation last week is another. I am sure that the execs at CP were out golfing this past weekend because they knew what was going to happen. They knew what was inevitable this week so they probably had the weekend off. They probably managed to get in 18 or 36 holes.

When this happens it becomes a problem because the government becomes the centre of the dispute and both parties stop negotiating. It is bad for the union, it is bad for the company, it is bad for government and it is bad for the country. Yet this is a new labour relations model for the government. It is one that every expert on both sides of the issue believes is wrong.

I am going to quote George Smith again because ironically, as a former labour relations director for both Air Canada and CP, his opinion should mean something to the government. He has been unique in his perspective on how the government has dealt with both of these disputes. He said repeatedly that the government is worsening employee relations at federal employers by its constant interventions. He wisely said, “You can't legislate peace” and that the government's intervention brings long-term instability and distrust between the employees and employers that are ultimately unpredictable and unproductive.

The mess the government has created in one year of labour relations will take years to undo.

Canadians are reasonable and fair people. We can start to see that Canadians are losing trust in the government. From the F-35 fiasco to the robocall scandal, Canadians are seeing the true colours of the government. The majority reform government is taking off the sheep's clothing. I have a feeling however there are still a few progressive Conservative MPs who are feeling quite uneasy about how the government is abusing its power, whether it is against the poor and vulnerable in our society, against seniors or against the enshrined rights afforded to workers.

With the way the government has treated workers over the last year and the incompetence it has shown in handling labour relations at Canada Post and CP Rail, I cannot with good conscience support the government's legislation. Back-to-work legislation should never be seen as a success. If it represents anything, it represents failure. The action of the government has time and time again been a failure.

If the government even dreams that it is legislating peace and harmony at CP, it had better wake up and apologize to organized labour in our country.

We have seen the results. We have seen two charter challenges. We have seen two court cases. Time after time, the government has made a mess of labour relations.

We will stand with the union on this particular bill. We will stand shoulder to shoulder with the teamsters on the bill and we will vote against this back-to-work legislation.