CN, CP mechanics approve possible strike action

Labour peace at Canada’s two main railways may not last, as the union locals representing mechanics and other staff have set strike deadlines into their contract talks.

Three Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) bargaining units representing Canadian National Railway’s (CN) locomotive and car mechanics and shop staff, various office staff and truck owner/operators who handle intermodal containers have set their deadline for just after midnight on Jan. 25.

Meanwhile, CAW’s Local 101, representing Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) mechanical services staff who inspect and fix locomotives and rail cars, has set its deadline at just after midnight on Feb. 8.

“Our members have spoken loudly and clearly about their issues and concerns and this high strike vote is a strong indication that our members are absolutely serious in addressing these concerns at the bargaining table,” CAW president Ken Lewenza said in a release Thursday.

The CN units, which represent a total of 4,300 workers, voted in meetings last week between 82 and 100 per cent in favour of strike action if need be, the CAW said.

CP’s Local 101, representing about 2,100 employees, voted last week 89 per cent in favour of going on strike if necessary, the union said.

Contract talks with both companies began in October and “have been challenging so far, with each demanding concessions of the workers,” the union said.

“Optimistic”

CN had no official comment Thursday, while CP said it has already trained 1,200 managers and has a “comprehensive contingency plan” set up to “fully” operate the railway if a labour dispute takes place.

However, CP noted Thursday, talks with the CAW remain ongoing and the railway “remains optimistic for a negotiated settlement.”

Canadian grain growers, especially in the West where rail is needed to move most crops to port, have previously warned labour disputes and work stoppages can back crops up into on-farm storage and interfere with farmers’ cash flow.

CN in late 2009 faced a few days of work stoppage as its Teamsters-represented engineers walked off the job, then agreed to arbitration shortly after the federal government announced plans for back-to-work legislation.

CN’s conductors, also represented by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, reached a last-minute deal with the railway in November 2010.

The conductors’ contract talks with CN had stalled to the point where the union or CN could have imposed a walkout or lockout with 72 hours’ notice.

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