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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canadian Pacific Railway's unions on Wednesday blasted its plan to lay off 600 workers, saying the move to cut maintenance costs as freight traffic slows will create safety problems.
A railway official said the job cuts involving both operating and maintenance crews were temporary, and the amount of time individual employees will be out of work ranges from "a couple of weeks to a couple of months."
Most of the cuts that take effect this week and next involve engineers, conductors and other operating personnel as the company switches to running fewer, but longer, trains, according to a union official.
The Canadian Auto Workers and Teamster unions said Canadian Pacific was taking an unnecessary risk letting track and care repair workers go in early winter when derailments can increase because of the weather conditions.
"We're all hoping for a safe holiday and New Year and that (Chief Executive Fred) Green's apparent 'good luck and gravity' safety policy for keeping the trains on the rails continues. Unfortunately, the numbers suggest otherwise," said Bill Brehl, of the Teamsters Canada Rail Council.
Calgary-based Canadian Pacific, which operates across Canada and in the northern United States, has a 16,000-person workforce, and a company officials said the cuts would primarily be in its Canadian operations.
The company, Canada's second largest railway, has been hit but both a slowdown in import traffic from Asia through Vancouver, and a drop in raw material export shipping because of the global economic slowdown.
"It's all part of doing business in this industry. Unfortunately, being part of the supply chain we need to respond to Canada's economy," said Canadian Pacific spokeswoman Breanne Feigel.
Feigel spoke before the unions' issued their statement, and she was not immediately available to comment on the union safety statements.
Slowing freight traffic prompted Canadian Pacific to launch a cost-cutting effort earlier this year, and it announced last month that capital spending in 2009 would be about C$800 million, down about C$200 million from this year.
The company's plans to run fewer but longer trains means that some running-trades employees may never be called back, the unions say.
Brehl said even if CP reduces its trains that does not allow it to cut all costs. "It doesn't matter if you are running 10 trains or 15, you still have to maintain the track," he said.
Reporting by Allan Dowd, Jennifer Kwan; Editing by Frank McGurty