CN, Teamsters reach new deal to avoid conductors’ strike

CN’s last work stoppage saw its Teamster-represented engineers walk the picket line in 2009. (File photo by Dave Bedard)

Conductors, trainmen and yardmen for Canadian National Railway (CN) will remain on the job following an 11th-hour tentative agreement under threat of back-to-work legislation.

“We commend the leadership of the (Teamsters Canada Rail Conference unit) for reaching consensus with the company and averting a possible strike,” CN chief operating officer Jim Vena said in a release Wednesday evening.

The deal, he said, “will ensure continued service to our customers in a very challenging environment where extreme winter conditions have hampered CN operations and affected service levels.”

Montreal-based CN, he added, “has offered to work closely with the union leadership to explain the terms of the agreement to union members over the next 45 days to help ensure a successful ratification of the agreement.”

The Teamsters unit for conductors, trainmen and yardmen had handed in formal strike notice Wednesday to begin as early as Saturday morning, after a previous tentative agreement reached in October did not pass a recent ratification vote by union members. [Related story]

Details of the proposed new three-year contract are being withheld pending another ratification vote, CN said Wednesday evening.

According to union representatives in a memo to members, however, the deal reached Wednesday is “essentially the Oct. 31 (memorandum of understanding) with modifications to address those things that the local chairman raised as presenting the most difficulties.”

Reaching the new agreement “was not easy,” TCRC representatives wrote, noting federal Labour Minister Kellie Leitch’s “intention to introduce legislation that would prevent a strike from taking place certainly presented significant challenges.”

Leitch on Wednesday afternoon had pledged federal back-to-work legislation to ward off the potential strike.

“I am pleased that the parties continued to make every effort to settle their differences,” she said in a statement Wednesday evening. “It’s essential that employers and unions work together to come to agreements that are in the best interest of everyone involved.”

Mediators from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service helped the company and Teamsters in their latest talks, she said, and “our government made it clear that legislation would be introduced to ensure that rail services are not disrupted. Immediately following our strong signal of action a tentative agreement was reached.”

Leitch said a work stoppage, which would have involved up to 3,300 CN staff, “would have damaging effects on our economy,” noting its effects on “farmers in the Prairies, to auto workers on the assembly line in Ontario, to forestry workers in Quebec.”

A work stoppage at CN would be inopportune at best for Prairie grain growers, already facing a backlog for thousands of rail cars needed to move a record-level 2013 crop out of the region, ships waiting for the crop to arrive at West Coast terminals and competition for rail space against substantial increases in commodities such as petroleum and intermodal traffic.

The total economic impact of a CN shutdown, Leitch said Wednesday, has been estimated at up to $450 million per week.

The new tentative agreement is to be forwarded to union members Thursday after proofreading, the TCRC said in its memo. — Network

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