Rocky Mountaineer Railtours is about to lock out its onboard attendants at a time when it can ill afford a loss of business.
About 130 onboard attendants with Rocky Mountain Railtours have been served 72-hour lockout notice.
That means they may not have anywhere to stay in town Wednesday night and replacement workers will be doing their jobs by the time the train leaves Kamloops on Thursday.
The attendants are former Canadian Auto Workers members who joined the Teamsters Union Local 31 earlier this year and have been without a collective agreement since their previous contract expired in February.
Ian Robertson, the company's director of corporate communications, said they are expecting no disruption in operations. Talks with the Teamsters continue.
"I can confirm that the union representing the onboard attendants in fact served the company June 15 with strike notice," Robertson said. "In turn, we served the union with lockout notice."
The lockout takes effect after midnight tonight, but the company has a contingency plan, Robertson said.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss what that contingency plan is," he added. "We've been planning for this inevitability for some time. Our plan is to operate the train as usual."
A former attendant with the rail vacation operation said the workers have been told they should expect to be replaced before the train boards in Kamloops Thursday morning.
Robertson said the company hopes to reach agreement on contract terms in order to forestall the lockout.
But Rod Blackburn, secretary treasurer with Teamsters Local 31, said talks have broken off after four successive offers from the company.
"We offered to suspend everything to give our members a complete week to vote," Blackburn said. "They said no."
A federal mediator was involved in the talks for two months, followed by a 21-day cooling off period.
Blackburn said replacement workers can be used only because railways are federally, not provincially, regulated. Onboard attendants usually stay overnight at Scott's Motor Inn, but the union rejected a company compromise to put them up two to a room.
Wages and overtime are key issues in the dispute.
"They were having problems and they came to the Teamsters for strong representation."
From a business standpoint, the dispute is another wrench in the works.
"To my knowledge, this is the first time we've been as close as we are to job action," Robertson said.
The tourism/travel industry is still on the rebound from the recession. High-end travel operations such as the Rocky Mountaineer are often hit hard by erosion of discretionary spending.
"Business is tough," Robertson said. "We're not really back to 2008 levels. It's never a good time (for a strike or lockout) but, as we are, a lot of tourism businesses are trying to rebuild … so it's not a good time."