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Rail News Home Canadian National Railway - CN

May 2007

Rail News: Canadian National Railway - CN

Federal arbitrator to settle CN-UTU contract squabble

After a few twists and turns in March, the labor dispute between the United Transportation Union-Canada and Canadian National Railway Co. took a few more last month. And the final twist landed the wage-increase squabble in the hands of a federal arbitrator.

On April 11, union members rejected a tentative agreement reached Feb. 24 — which had prompted UTU-Canada to suspend a strike until ratification ballots were counted — by a 1,553-402 vote. The union then resumed the strike and CN locked out striking workers.

On April 14, UTU-Canada and railroad officials tried to negotiate a new contract covering 2,800 CN conductors and yard workers — whose previous contract expired on Dec. 31 — during a five-hour bargaining session in Montreal. But the meeting proved fruitless.

“CN had nothing to say to suggest that there might be any improvement in the rejected deal,” said UTU-Canada Vice Presidents Bob Sharpe and John Armstrong in a statement issued April 16.

The union “demanded” that CN improve its offer and was “unwilling to address issues CN previously raised in negotiations,” railroad officials countered in a statement released the same day.

Own course of action
Convinced the bargaining process was “broken,” CN officials on April 16 announced the railroad would seek to negotiate regional settlements with factions of striking workers.

Meanwhile, UTU-Canada officials continued to stress that bargaining was the only way the parties could resolve their differences and urged the federal government not to pursue back-to-work legislation.

However, the Canadian Parliament and Senate on April 18 enacted a back-to-work bill, forcing UTU-Canada members to return to work and prompting CN to end the lock out. The law requires the union and railroad to immediately submit best-offer proposals to a government-appointed arbitrator.

On April 23, Canadian Minister of Labor Jean-Pierre Blackburn named Andrew Sims as the arbitrator. Part-time vice chairman of the Alberta Labor Relations Board and Canadian Industrial Relations Board, Sims maintains a private practice as an arbitrator and mediator. He will review the union’s and railroad’s best final contract offers and choose one to form a collective agreement by late July.

However, the law doesn’t prevent UTU-Canada and CN from returning to the negotiating table during the arbitration process.

“I encourage both parties to approach the next 90 days as an opportunity to negotiate and develop reasonable, long-term solutions to the labor dispute,” Blackburn said in a prepared statement.


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