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Unifor sets strike vote timetable as CN contract negotiations bog down

Unifor yesterday announced it plans to begin strike votes at CN as of early next week if a contract agreement isn't reached. The union would set a strike deadline close to March's end to allow CN customers to make alternative arrangements, said Unifor President Jerry Dias in a press release.

The strike vote process is expected to take up to three weeks. Unifor is the largest union at CN, representing more than 4,800 workers. The last agreement expired on Dec. 31 and negotiations had been taking place since September.

"CN is trying to get a discounted settlement, by counting on the government to cut off collective bargaining with back-to-work legislation," said Dias. "Companies like CN should not be leaning on government to interfere in collective bargaining."

The strike vote announcement by Unifor is both "unfortunate and unnecessary," CN officials said in an emailed statement. The Class I's principles will not be shaken by a month-long process to seek a strike mandate that would only raise uncertainty in the company’s customer base, they said.

"CN has asked Unifor again today to focus its bargaining on the terms and conditions that apply to the company’s employees. CN is not prepared to negotiate cash contributions to the union’s political and community fund. This is not an issue about charity; CN is willing to support charitable causes jointly with Unifor," CN officials said. "The real issue is one of principle — CN is not prepared to allow financial matters related to the union itself to take precedence over the interest of the company’s employees."

Under CN's offer, the Unifor-represented employees would remain the highest paid of their trade in the Canadian rail industry, CN official said.

A negotiated settlement regarding wages and terms of employment remains the best solution, given the differences between the parties, they believe. The railroad continues to be committed to bargain in good faith for a renewal of the collective agreements as soon as possible, and also is prepared to send outstanding contractual issues between the parties to binding arbitration, CN officials said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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