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Rail News: Labor

UTU-Canada members launch strike against CN; Class I claims strike is illegal

The picket signs are visible at Canadian National Railway Co. As planned, United Transportation Union-Canada members launched a strike against CN right after midnight on Saturday.

UTU-Canada represents 2,800 of CN’s conductors and yard-service employees in Canada. CN managers are performing conductor and yard switching duties to maintain operations during the strike.

However, CN executives are seeking a federal court ruling to declare the strike illegal because the certified bargaining agent of UTU members employed at CN — the United Transportation Union International — did not authorize the walk off. In a statement, UTU International President Paul Thompson confirmed four UTU-Canada general chairpersons “intentionally ignored” an article in the union’s constitution that requires formal action by a UTU International general committee prior to issuing a strike.

“Rather than having the assistance of the largest railroad union in North America … and the substantial resources of the International on their side, our brothers and sisters in Canada have been put in a position of having to fend for themselves,” said Thompson. “This didn’t have to be the case.”

UTU-Canada officials assert the union’s constitution can’t supersede the Canadian labor code, so the strike is legal.

Contract negotiations between the railroad and union broke off Feb. 9 because UTU officials demanded “excessive” wage increases, CN officials said in a statement. The union’s final offer of 4.5 percent, 4.5 percent and 4 percent raises over three years is 40 percent higher than wage increases the railroad recently negotiated in comparable three-year agreements, CN officials said.

“We are prepared to negotiate a fair and equitable settlement with the UTU in the same way we’ve done with our other unions,” said CN President and Chief Executive Officer E. Hunter Harrison in a prepared statement. “But such a settlement must be economically sustainable and maintain the company’s competitiveness in the transportation marketplace.”

UTU-Canada members voted “overwhelmingly against working under the present conditions,” UTU-Canada spokesman Rex Beatty said in a statement.

CN and UTU-Canada officials agreed to maintain normal commuter-rail operations on CN lines in Toronto and Montreal during the strike. The job action excludes UTU-represented workers at CN’s Northern Quebec Internal Short Line, Algoma Central Railway and Mackenzie Northern Railway.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/12/2007