CN labor talks go down to the wire

CN labor talks go down to the wire

OTTAWA -Canadian National Railway and union epresentatives of 5,800 workers on Thursday were holding negotiations in advance of a strike call set for tonight.

Negotiations began at noon Tuesday. They are being, presided over by Elizabeth MacPherson, head of the federal labor department's mediation and conciliation service.

Members of the Canadian Auto Workers union overrode their leadership and rejected three tentative three-year collective agreements reached with CN in January.

The union had informed CN of the rejection by intermodal, clerical and shopcraft workers last weekend and set a strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. Friday. The membership rejected the tentative agreement primarily because of the compensation package. But the vote also reflected anger with the workers' own leadership as well as the railway company concerning alleged harsh treatment and disrespect accorded its members, union negotiator Abe Rosner said in an interview.

"The treatment of our members in the workplace is something that came back to bite us big-time," when it came to membership votes to ratify the tentative agreements reached, Rosner said. "It's as big as what is in or not in the agreement" about compensation. The members were angry with the company, and angry with union leadership for not representing them well on the workplace issues, he said.

"For the last year or year-and-a-half, working conditions have deteriorated, and respect for people has deteriorated" at CN, Rosner said.

CN was not immediately available for comment on this issue, or any of substance being negotiated. Mark Hallman, a CN spokesman, said only that the company was in negotiations that "will continue throughout the day."