General committee of adjustment
CN Rail - Lines East
Dear Mayor Williamson:
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the efforts you made on Wesley's behalf with regard to this matter. We are in full agreement with you that C.N. had unjustly treated a fine employee and an honorable man when they handed down their punishment to Wesley MacDonald. We are just very grateful that we have been able to turn that situation around.
I don't think that this award will lessen the horror of what Wesley has been through as a result of this incident, and the subsequent discipline by C.N., but I know that the support that you, and others from your community, offered to Wesley has made it easier for him to weather the storm.
cc: Mr. W.H. MacDonald
Following an investigation W.H. MacDonald received a suspension of six months for:
Violation of U.C.O.R. General Notice, paragraph one (1), page 2 and U.C.O.R. Rule 108, page 58 and U.C.O. Rule 106, page 58.
The Brotherhood appealed the discipline assesses on the grounds that the discipline was unwarranted.
The Company declined the appeal.
The facts of March 9, 1987 were as follows:
1. Wesley MacDonald is an employee of 42 years of service. (Entered into service May 19, 1945.)
2. The major portion of the assignments which Wesley MacDonald worked consisted of switching like that required at Brunswick Mines.
3. On March 9, 1987 W.H. MacDonald was operating Work Extra 9548.
4. Around 0800 hours 9548 carried out switching at Brunswick Mines.
5. After which the caboose was placed in track B-221.
6. The engines were then coupled onto cars loaded with ore in track B-226.
7. The engines with the cars from B-226 were then coupled to the card from B-225.
8. The engines with the cars from B-225 were then coupled in B-224.
9. A revere movement was then initiated from track B-224 in order to go to track B-221 to pick up the caboose.
10. At the beginning of his backward movement, Brakeman Court advised W. MacDonald that he had 23 cars and that the air was not coupled.
11. Following the engines was a car (covered hopper) which restricted the view of the train from the engines.
12. After having backed up about 20 cars, and after having applied maximum braking, the train increased its speed as opposed to decreasing it.
13. This version of events is contained in the response to question 13 of the employee statement made by W.H. MacDonald, as well as in the statements of Conductor Sturgeon, Brakeman Scott and Brakeman Court. All descriptions of events concurred.
14. All employee statements were taken on the same day, that being March 14, 1987.
15. And now, Mr. Arbitrator, if you would allow, we will listen to the taped conversation.
The discipline given to W.H. MacDonald was in opposition to the goals of the Discipline Policy.
17. Meeting of the joint conference June 29 and 30, 1987.
18. The Company's response at Step III.
19. It was clearly shown during the investigation, that it was an established practice to engage in switching at Brunswick Mines without having the brakes on the cars.
20. It was also shown that both C.N. and the C.T.C. were aware of these practices.
21. When the backward movement was initiated Locomotive Engineer MacDonald believed he was moving around 20 cars as usual.
22. It was impossible for the Engineer to see the cars or their contents owing to the presence of the "covered hopper" and the drifting snow.
23. The Company recognized these facts in their letter of July 6, 1987:
"Although the seriousness of his misjudgement was compounded by the fact that he was coupled to 31 cars instead of 23 as advised..."
24. It is, therefore, illogical to pretend that W.H. MacDonald initiated an error which created a "run away train".
If we refer to the answer from Wes MacDonald to question 13, "at 20 cars from the switch I had full brake application."
25. Wesley MacDonald did everything possible to try to stop the train before it derailed.
26. He even risked his life by going to put on a hand brake on the first car at a speed of about 60 miles per hour.
27. It is evident that the manner of switching cars at Brunswick Mines is not the safest.
28. But, if he had received the correct information concerning the number of cars he had, the tragedy would have been avoided.
29. There are several factors which could and should be taken into consideration in this case.
30. The first of these, without a doubt, is the fact that the manner in which switching was carried out at Brunswick Mines was an established practice.
31. This established practice was done with around 20 to 25 cars. That is the information Wes MacDonald received from Brakeman Court on that day, 23 cars.
32. A version which the Company has never contradicted (response from the Vice-President "31 cars instead of 23 as advised").
33. The fact that the locomotives were furnished with composition brakes in place of cast iron brake shoes.
34. It was very surprising to learn that the locomotives did not have flat wheels. This proves that the brakes were not efficient.
35. The weather conditions were very bad on the day of the accident (cold and blowing snow).
36. The fact that the cars were frequently overloaded.
37. There were many other small points which together brought about this derailment.
38. All of these points have brought about an accident in a transport business.
39. An accident which was caused by wrong information which brought about insufficient braking because the ratio between the weight of the cars and the capacity of the brakes was changed. The braking ratio is calculated by the Locomotive Engineer according to what he knows about the composition of the train.
41. There have been, and there always will be, trucks which do not have sufficient braking for the hills. This has brought about many accidents, sometimes very spectacular ones.
42. All the administrators and heads of companies realize that these accidents can occur. That is the reason why they pay such heavy insurance premiums.
43. Those people who have to judge the responsibility and the corrective measures to take in such situations must take into account:
44. In the case which we discuss today, C.N. has raised all of this data but has considered only the last item, that being "the public impact".
If an examination indicates that responsibility for the failure rests with the employee, various forms of corrective discipline are available for use as appropriate in influencing employee performance.
An employee who has accumulated close to 60 demerit marks and who is again subject to discipline may be suspended when a thorough review of the case indicates there are exceptional circumstances which warrant that a further opportunity be given the employee.
The maximum period of suspension which can be assessed for one offence is 6 months.
NOTE: Disciplinary action must not be used solely as a means of avoiding payment for time held out of service.
45. If we look closely at Wesley MacDonald's file we will learn that he had not only attained and maintained an acceptable performance, he maintained a performance that must be considered exemplary.
46. He had upwards of 42 years of loyal service.
47. In the purpose of corrective disciplinary measure it is said that:
"If on examination, the reasons for failure to maintain an acceptable level of performance indicates a Company responsibility to provide training, instruction or direction, necessary corrective action should be undertaken at Company expense. In cases where the responsibility rests solely with the Company no reproach attached to the employee.
48. The instruction or directions were issued the same day as the accident by C.N. Rail by way of Bulletin No. 01/87, and afterwards in the timetable #91 dated June 7, 1987, stipulating that:
"Effective immediately, air brakes must be fully operative when switching is performed at Brunswick Mining and Smelting Company."
49. Does this famous bulletin not suffice in recognizing that the fault concerning the air brakes lies with the Company?
50. In referring to the discipline directives to determine in which case the use of suspension would be appropriate, one can see that these directives did not apply to Wesley Macdonald.
51. I think, Mr. Arbitrator, that we could speak for hours about the causes and the results of this accident, but we think that only one conclusion imposes itself.
52. The Canadian National, even though it has admitted that the primary cause of the accident was the incorrect information received by Wesley MacDonald from the brakeman, they did not bear this fact in mind.
53. The canadian National has not, in this case, followed its own policy or purpose outlined in the Corrective Disciplinary Actions, in spite of the fact that the document was put out by C.n. Rail itself.
54. They never took into consideration the 42 years of loyal service of Mr. MacDonald.
55. They did not take into consideration the actions taken by Mr. MacDonald, even to the risk of his own life, to try to stop the movement.
56. They did not take into consideration the fact that he put his own life in peril in order to protect the lives of other citizens.
57. What they did do instead in a stupid act of panic, was to suspend Mr. MacDonald for six months.
58. They did this in order to show that this accident was the fault of the employee regardless of their respective responsibility.
59. By this action they have sabotaged a retirement which was well merited. It is essential to realize that when they made the decision to suspend Mr. MacDonald, they knew that he would be taking retirement in the near future.
60. Public opinion was not reassured by the corrective action taken by C.N. The public was shocked, and Wes MacDonald's family was hurt.
61. In response to the politicians, journalists and the general public, C.N. would only say that the matter was being grieved by the union and that they would make no comment.
62. All of the steps taken against C.N. have been in vain.
63. They have taken the example of Pontius Pilate and have washed their hand and allowed a third party to solve the matter.
64. What the Brotherhood of Locomotive engineers asks of this third party today, is to say to Canadian National that they have made a monumental error.
65. That you would direct them to reimburse the salary and benefits lost by Mr. MacDonald.
66. That you would direct them to adjust his pension accordingly.
This will not remove the nightmares of this man, but it will surely show him, and show the public, that a certain justice must be exercised on the part of an employer towards his employees.
This is respectively submitted. Wednesday, December 7, 1987.