Like most railway workers Rex Beatty started when he was a young man. Beginning as a brakeman and becoming a conductor he has always been an active union member, and in 2011 he was elected president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC).
The TCRC is an autonomous group within the Teamsters and represents 11,000 Canadian Railway Running Craft workers, among others such as, engineers, conductors, yard workers, rail traffic coordinators. Throughout his career Beatty has always been an advocate for safety, so it is understandable that he is especially vocal now.
“Rail is safe in Canada as long as proper procedures and processes are complied with,” says Beatty. “Those procedures and processes have to be transparent.” One of his worries is that engineers and conductors, who are also the first responders in a rail accident, are not allowed to know what cargo they’re carrying. “We need to be able to tell police and firefighters what chemicals are dangerous, what can happen.” He also advocates for medical training for the running crafts.
He’s had many accomplishments in his long career, and one of the achievements he is most pleased to be part of was the negotiation and ratification of a new collective agreement, without any work stoppage and before the previous contract had expired. For that he doesn’t want credit—he says it was the work of the team and the willingness of everyone, especially the carriers, to sit down and talk.
“It’s not in our interests to have companies fail. If they succeed it’s good for our members,” he says, but he opposes the layoffs of TCRC members. Reduced staff saves railways money but also reduces service, which has a negative impact on the industry, the economy, the workers themselves, and the communities trains pass through. “The bottom line can’t go ahead of safety.”
That’s something most Canadians understand.