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Rail News: Labor

It's time for federal legislation to end UTU-Canada strike, CN says

Confronted by “intense internal divisions within the striking United Transportation Union in Canada,” Canadian National Railway Co. officials yesterday acknowledged the need for federal legislation to end the strike, which has entered its 13th day.

CN officials continue to negotiate with authorized UTU bargaining representatives, with assistance from a federal mediator. However, the United Transportation Union International removed four UTU-Canada general chairpersons from office on Monday and CN officials have been bargaining a short time with two new UTU-Canada negotiators.

“We believe government legislation is warranted at this time given internal UTU divisions that have hampered the union’s bargaining efforts,” said CN President and Chief Executive Officer E. Hunter Harrison in a prepared statement. “The federal government must proceed expeditiously with legislation providing for a mediation/arbitration process to settle a new collective agreement between CN and the UTU.”

Contrary to a false claim by an ousted UTU-Canada general chairman, the railroad will permit strikers to return to work if they choose to do so per a longstanding corporate policy, CN officials also said yesterday. As of noon yesterday, about 340 UTU members “made themselves available for work” in the railroad’s eastern region, officials said.

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. CN management personnel continue to perform striking workers’ jobs.

Meanwhile, Canadian rail shippers continue to grow frustrated with strike-related service disruptions. The job action is making it difficult to deliver fertilizer to rural Canadian farmers in time for the spring planting season, Canadian Fertilizer Institute (CFI) officials said.

“Service disruptions at this critical time could cause significant losses and layoffs throughout industry,” said CFI President Roger Larson.

Adds Canadian Federation of Agriculture President Bob Friesen: “[The strike] is very concerning for Canadian farmers, not only for access to fertilizer and other products, but for farm exports as well.”

Service disruptions also have been felt by the forest products industry, which is incurring additional costs and facing mill shut downs unless the strike is settled in a few days, said Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) officials.

“The forest products industry is one of Canada’s single largest users of freight-rail services,” said FPAC President and CEO Avrim Lazar. “As most of the industry’s mills are located in remote areas where rail service is the only viable transportation mode, other forms of ground transportation are either too costly or unavailable to provide our companies with relief.”

The mining industry is facing shut downs, too, because of short fuel supplies, said Mining Association of Canada (MAC) officials.

“The shipment of fuel and other supplies to mine sites is being compromised, as is the transport of mining products, which may cause a halt in production and closure at some sites,” said MAC Chairman, and HudBay Materials Inc. President and CEO Peter Jones. “Timing is critical because the fuel is delivered to the mines on a seasonal ice road that typically closes by the end of March or first week of April due to melting ice."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/22/2007