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Canadian locomotive engineers launch strike at CN


On Saturday, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC)-represented locomotive engineers walked off the job at CN. Members of the union, which represents 1,700 CN engineers, have worked without an agreement since Dec. 31, 2008, and the parties have tried to negotiate a contract the past 14 months.

On Friday, CN announced that contract talks had broken off and the Class I anticipated a strike. TCRC had issued a 72-hour strike notice earlier in the week.

For CN, the major obstacle to a negotiated settlement pertains to wages. The union’s offer wouldn’t end the strike; instead, it would continue negotiations for an undefined time period “over the same work rule issues we have been discussing for 14 months,” CN officials said in a prepared statement.

“Frankly, we do not see how further discussions on these same points will change the parties’ positions,” they said. “However, if the TCRC would enter into a binding arbitration agreement with us today that simultaneously ends the strike, we would be pleased to draft an offer for resolution.”

CN “repeatedly offered” to submit contract disputes to binding arbitration to avoid a labor disruption, but the union refused, CN officials said. On Nov. 23, the Class I had notified the union of its intention to implement one work rule change to collective agreements and increase wages by 1.5 percent, effective Nov. 28.

On Saturday, the union offered to submit the wage portion of the contract dispute to final and binding arbitration “upon successful resolution of other outstanding issues,” but the Class I turned the offer down and indicated final and binding arbitration was the only solution, said TCRC President Daniel Shewchuk in a statement.

"We do not feel our position on wages is excessive as they are in line with what CN has negotiated with other unions,” he said. “We are extremely disappointed that CN’s focus is to have all issues handled through final and binding arbitration without having to negotiate.”

Federal officials might intervene in the dispute and force engineers to return to work if the two sides don’t resolve their differences by the end of today.

During the strike, CN will implement its labor contingency plan, which calls for “qualified management personnel” to work as locomotive engineers. The railroad also will work to ensure passenger-rail operations aren’t impacted by the strike.

Engineers will remain on the job in the following territories because of separate collective agreements: northern Alberta; parts of northern and eastern Ontario; northern Quebec; and portions of eastern Quebec and New Brunswick, CN said.