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UTU-Canada's strike against CN is legal, Canadian labor relations board says; contract negotiations to resume today, union says

Yesterday, the Canadian Industrial Relations Board ruled United Transportation Union-Canada’s strike against Canadian National Railway Co. is legal. Although pickets will remain in place, UTU officials expect to reopen negotiations with railroad representatives.

However, there’ll be different union officials at the bargaining table. Yesterday, the UTU International removed four UTU-Canada general chairpersons from office and suspended them from UTU membership for “engaging in an unauthorized strike against CN without requesting the assistance of the international president” and “attempting to negotiate a merger with the Teamsters,” actions that violate the union’s constitution, UTU International officials said.

“Had the general chairpersons followed the UTU constitution … the membership would not have been on picket lines without the full support of the international,” said UTU International President Paul Thompson in a prepared statement.

The union’s board voted in favor of removing UTU-Canada general chairpersons Rex Beatty, Bryan Boechler, Raymond Lebel and Sylvia Leblanc from office, and suspending vice general chairpersons Gary Anderson, Roland Hackl and James Robbinsby. The board also directed two Canadian UTU vice presidents to negotiate with CN officials. Union and railroad officials plan to meet today in Montreal, along with Canada’s labor minister and chief labor negotiator.

UTU-Canada — which represents 2,800 CN conductors and yard-service workers in Canada — launched the strike Feb. 10 after contract negotiations broke down over a disagreement on wage increases. The previous three-year contract expired on Dec. 31.

A number of Canada rail shippers are feeling the strikes’ effects. Many propane shippers are reporting shipment delays and problems obtaining empty freight cars and containers, Propane Gas Association of Canada (PGAC) officials said on Friday.

“The industry is doing everything within its power to minimize disruptions of propane delivery to its customers, but there is growing concern within the industry about the impact of the strike,” said PGAC Managing Director Ann Marie Hann. “The industry is looking for firm and decisive action by CN, the UTU and government to bring the current situation to quick conclusion.”

Meanwhile, NOVA Chemicals has reduced production at several plants as a precaution.

“If the strike is protracted and the company is required to substantially reduce production, the financial impact on NOVA Chemicals could be significant,” said Chief Operating Officer Chris Pappas.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/20/2007