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Mechanics confirm strike plans, CN says

Canadian National Railway’s (CN) unionized mechanics and related staff have confirmed plans to strike Tuesday barring a last-minute agreement, the company says.

The employees, members of bargaining units represented by the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), had set the Tuesday deadline into their contract talks with the railway on Jan. 13, following a vote favouring strike action.

CN said in a release that it received notice Saturday from the CAW that the employees plan to strike starting at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday (Jan. 25).

But Montreal-based CN also said it “believes there is sufficient time for the parties to reach an agreement before the strike deadline.”

However, the railway added it “has established a contingency service plan to operate the railway safely and as efficiently as possible in the event of a strike, with trained and qualified management personnel performing the tasks of CAW members.”

CN said it had been in talks with the CAW since September, in advance of the bargaining units’ contracts expiring on Dec. 31, 2010.

The CAW, according to CN, represents about 3,975 workers in four bargaining units at CN and intermodal trucking subsidiary CNTL, including locomotive and rail car mechanics and shop staff, clerical and intermodal staff, excavator operators, and owner/operator truck drivers who handle intermodal containers.

According to the CAW on Jan. 13, the affected bargaining units include its Local 100 and three separate units of Council 4000: office/clerical, mechanical, and truck owner/operators.

(The union also said it represents a total of 4,300 workers in the affected units, and that it had been in talks with both CN and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) since October.)

In the same statement Jan. 13, the CAW announced a strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 8 for 2,100 workers represented by its Local 101 at CP.

CP on Jan. 13 noted it has also trained about 1,200 managers and has a contingency plan in place to operate the railway in the event of a strike.

CAW Local 101 represents mechanical services employees who inspect and repair rail cars and locomotives. Calgary-based CP said Jan. 13 it “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.

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