Canadian rail shippers are anxiously waiting to see if Canadian National Railway and 2,700 union workers in the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference can reach a mediated agreement and head off a potential strike or lockout.
The last contract for the TCRC’s conductors, yardmen and traffic coordinators ran out in July, and the union in late August sent out strike ballots to members after negotiations broke down between the union and CN over a new contract.
The two sides were slated to meet Sept. 27 with government-appointed mediator Jacques Lessard. But shippers say they’ve heard union members gave their negotiators a strike mandate, and now either side could take action with 72-hours notice starting early on Sept. 29.
CN spokesman Mark Hallman said neither side has issued such a notice, and the company said that in order to avoid a labor disruption it is prepared to accept a three-year “status quo” agreement that was recommended in a report by a conciliation official. CN notified the federal labor minister and the union of that position on Sept. 10, said Hallman.
Last week, the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association told Labor Minister Lisa Raitt by letter that “rail service disruptions are damaging to the Canadian economy in general and Canadian export industries in particular. Even the threat of a strike causes disruption as foreign buyers move to other sources of supply.”
This, CITA said, marks “the fourth strike or serious threat of a work stoppage by operating employees at CN since 2005.” Late last year, CN and its locomotive engineers, also under the TCRC, squared off in a dispute that led to a 21-day strike and the threat of government intervention.
CN’s Hallman said that while the carrier “would have preferred to negotiate changes to union work rules to gain flexibility to further improve customer service, the company, in the interest of reaching a settlement, is prepared to accept the recommendations” contained in a Sept. 7 report.
It would contain no work rule changes, would be retroactive to July 23 and include an immediate wage hike of 2.4 percent, to be followed by a 2.6 percent raise in 2011and 3 percent in 2012.
Hallman also said that “CN, as is prudent, has established a contingency service plan” in the event of a labor disruption. However, CITA said “it will be impossible for CN to sustain normal service levels during a strike or lockout,” and asked the government to “take early action” to head off a work stoppage.
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